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Sharp Health News

Mental health needs of military families

May 8, 2019

Mental health needs of military families

There are countless heartwarming videos of military men and women coming home to their families, meeting their new babies for the first time and surprising their children at school. While these military homecomings are largely celebrations, these families can face emotional challenges both before and after deployment.

Dr. Joseph Kosmach , medical director of child and adolescent services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, cares for young patients in military families who experience some of these challenges.

“We have such a large military community here in San Diego. The children of these families can experience significant mental health issues due in large part to the lifestyle surrounding the military,” he says. “Some of the more common challenges we see are isolation, loneliness, anxiety and anger. We also know these children have a higher prevalence of substance use, violence, harassment and weapon-carrying than their nonmilitary peers.”

Children of military parents often experience frequent moves, on average six to nine times between kindergarten and high school. These moves can result in a lack of home-life stability, difficulty making and maintaining meaningful friendships, and even lack of interest in school and extracurricular activities, says Dr. Kosmach.

“With the frequency of moves that many military children experience, they can become hesitant to make friends or engage in social activities due to the fear of getting too close or comfortable in their new life, when moving and starting over is always a possibility,” he says.

Because of this, military children may experience isolation and loneliness, and they are at greater risk of developing depression, turning to drugs and alcohol, and even having thoughts of suicide, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. These risks increase if the family member is deployed.

While a return from deployment is typically thought of as getting back to “normal life” for these families, often the transition can be a difficult adjustment.

“When a parent returns home from deployment, they usually want to jump back into their parenting role, but oftentimes children need some time to adjust and acclimate to the new dynamics of their reunited family,” says Dr. Kosmach.

If parents are experiencing difficulties with their children readjusting after a deployment, Dr. Kosmach recommends the following tips to help ease the transition:

  • Listen and validate your child’s feelings and thoughts.
  • Engage them in activities of their choosing.
  • Be present when you’re with them. Put away cellphones and other distractions.

If you’re a parent of a child struggling with serious behavioral issues, Sharp Mesa Vista can help. Visit our website to learn more about Sharp Mesa Vista’s child and adolescent services, or call 858-836-8434.

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