Mental Health Support for Military Families

The Effect of War on Military Families

The U.S. has been involved in two wars overseas for close to two decades. The men and women of our military have been in harm’s way in Afghanistan since 2001, and in Iraq since 2003. Despite troop drawdowns in the past few years in both countries, we still have soldiers stationed in both places, and recent events in Syria and Iraq seem to be leading to another increase in our troop levels in Iraq and possibly other countries in the region. The dangers of war for the soldiers directly involved are well known; loss of life and limb are the primary consequences, while re-integration issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety are secondary consequences of which most Americans are equally aware. In recent news, the mismanagement of the Veteran’s Affairs Hospital (VA) highlighted the fact that, as a nation, we need to do a better job taking care of our soldiers after they return home from foreign wars. In addition to taking care of our soldiers upon their homecoming, there’s another area where we need to focus our energies: the mental and emotional health of the children and families of military personnel.

Wartime Deployment of Parents: The Effect on Children

In an article published in The Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers found that the wellbeing of adolescents whose parents were deployed in war time are at risk of several significant mental health challenges, such as low self-esteem, low levels of wellbeing and depression. The paper states:

“The findings in this study suggest that military-connected adolescents have much higher rates of feeling sad or hopeless than found in other national studies … In our study, 33.7% of adolescents with a parent and 35.3% with a sibling in the military reported feeling sad or hopeless for more than 2 weeks in the past 12 months.”

The findings of this study go further—not only are the children of military families more at-risk for depressive mood and low self-esteem, they’re also at greater risk for suicidal ideation. A recent article in the Huffington Post, written by Ron Astor, a professor of Social Work at the University of Southern California, reports that military spouses also suffer from similar negative mental and emotional effects of overseas deployment during wartime.

Help for Military Families

The VA hospital has been embroiled in controversy for almost a decade. The waiting times for both medical care and psychological services can be incredibly long (long enough to be nearly ineffective for those needing immediate care). Because of this unfortunate state of affairs, it’s important that help for military families comes from sources other than the VA. Private, non-profit organizations such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, The National Military Families Association and The National Alliance on Mental Illness all offer resources for military families seeking help with mental health issues resulting from the overseas deployment of family members.

Perhaps the most encouraging private initiative to help military families and returning service members is an organization called Give an Hour. Give an Hour is a nationwide network of mental health providers who volunteer their services to veterans and their families, with no hassle, no waiting time and, according to their website, no paperwork at all. For families navigating the challenges of bureaucracies, the services offered by Give an Hour are welcome relief.

Federal Assistance for Education

In addition to help from the private sector, the Department of Defense has stepped up to offer support for the education of military families through their Military K-12 Partners Program. Since 2009, the DoD has given out close to $400 million dollars to local education agencies (LEA’s) connected to military families. These grants have served students directly through grants to schools, to teachers through professional development services and to families through offering resources that help with everything from finding schools designed for military kids to assistance managing health records, transfer transcripts and other challenges unique to military families who are often forced to move many times during their children’s school careers.

It’s Up to All of Us

In the end, it’s our collective responsibility as a society to help ease the burden of our military families. If there’s any way we can offer a helping hand, we should do so, whether it’s as a volunteer or as a friend. It’s unlikely that members of military families will come right out and talk about their problems openly with non-military families—it’s just not in their ethos. Therefore, we need to read between the lines and understand that it’s statistically likely that if we know someone in a military family, or if we teach a child of military parents, we know someone who is facing challenges that we aren’t—they may need our help.