|Children more stressed and depressed the longer their soldier parents are deployed|
|July 11, 2011|
The longer soldiers are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, the more likely their children are to be diagnosed with mental health issues, including depression, behavioral problems, anxiety and sleep disorders, a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows.
The study, published online July 4 by Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, examined children, ages 5 to 17, with a parent who was deployed in the U.S. military efforts Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) between 2003 and 2006. Authors found that these children were more likely than children whose parents did not deploy to receive a diagnosis of a mental health problem, and the longer or more often a parent was deployed, the more likely the child was to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
The study found more than 6,500 additional diagnoses of mental health conditions during the four-year period among children of soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, compared to children of non-deployed soldiers.
"These children are bombarded daily with news from Iraq and Afghanistan about more and more sophisticated roadside bombs, suicide bombers, political unrest - it takes a huge toll on them as they worry about Mom or Dad being in harm's way," said Alyssa J. Mansfield, PhD, MPH, lead author of the study conducted while she was a doctoral student in epidemiology at UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health. "Our study underscores the importance of anticipating psychological issues children of deployed troops face and making sure someone intervenes early to help these kids."
Mansfield currently is an epidemiologist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Honolulu. While at UNC, she and colleagues examined electronic medical record data for outpatient care received at military facilities or through military health insurance for 307,520 children. The study included children ages 5 years through 17 years who had at least one parent serving on active duty in the U.S. Army. (Children of Reserve and National Guard personnel were excluded.) Researchers used the International Classification of Disease, Ninth Revision, to identify mental health diagnoses.
Nearly 17 percent (16.7 percent) were given a mental health diagnosis during the study. More than 62 percent of the parents of the diagnosed children were deployed at least once during the period, for an average of 11 months. Mental health diagnoses were more common among children who had a parent deployed at least once in Iraq or Afghanistan. They also found that, adjusting for age, sex and mental health history, the likelihood of a mental health diagnosis increased the longer their parent was deployed.
"We saw a clear pattern, showing diagnosis of these mental health disorders increasing the longer parents were deployed," Mansfield said.
Mansfield conducted a similar study among wives of deployed soldiers, showing they are more likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and other mental health conditions than women whose husbands are not deployed. That study was published in January 2010 in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Authors of the newly published study urge further research of this issue among other branches of the military as well as the National Guard and Reserves.
Other researchers who contributed to the study were Jay S. Kaufman, PhD, an associate epidemiology professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health at the time of the study and now associate professor in the epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health department at McGill University in Montreal, Canada; Bradley N. Gaynes, MD, professor of psychiatry in the UNC School of Medicine and adjunct epidemiology professor at the UNC public health school; and Charles C. Engel, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.
For more information, see www.jamamedia.org.
# # #UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, director of communications, (919) 966-7467 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Last updated July 11, 2011|