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Adolescent Depression in Military Families Due to Deployment
A study of adolescents in California public schools shows that youth with a family member deployed with the military face a greater chance of becoming depressed, with the risk for depression increasing with the number of deployments and can persist even after things abroad cool down.
The study piggy-backed on a biannual state survey given out in the California public schools. The extra questionnaire was given to students attending public schools in eight districts of Southern California. California is home to multiple military bases and therefore boasts a significant military family population.
The questionnaire went out to 14,300 southern California students of whom 50 percent were Hispanic. Other youth taking the survey were white, mixed race, Asian and black. Researchers decided to narrow their field of study to only freshman and juniors. This left them with a study population of 9,300 students of whom fewer than 14 percent were military-related.
The researchers were interested in freshman and juniors who had had a family member deploy with the military sometime in the previous 10 years. They compared answers on feelings with youth who had no family members in the active duty military to see how mental health compared between kids who had deployment experiences and those who did not. Past looks at adolescent emotional health related to deployments have mostly taken place solely in military settings such as summer camps for soldier’s families.
The study yielded important insight as military family youth with deployment experiences appear to struggle with depression far more than their non-military peers. For example the study found that the freshman and juniors who had lived through multiple deployments of a family member in the last decade faced a 56 percent greater likelihood of being sad or depressed compared to peers from non-military families. The same kids were 34 percent more apt to think about suicide.
Around 28.5 percent of adolescents in the general population (not just California schools) say they feel hopeless or sad. This is compared to 33.7 percent of those with a parent that had deployed and 35.3 percent of those with a deployed sibling. In terms of suicidal thoughts, 15 percent of adolescents in the general population struggle with such thoughts while 24.8 percent of kids with a deployed parent and 26.1 percent of kids with a deployed sibling have suicidal ideation.
These disparities may be explained by a sense of isolation kids feel when someone they love deploys. Less than one percent of Americans have been deployed since the 9/11 attacks, which means there just aren’t many other young people living through the experience of deployment. Adolescents who feel worried and stressed over a loved one in danger may also feel very much alone.
Experts commenting on the study suggest that schools take note of the number of military family students in their classrooms. Talking about how to support troops and their families and celebrating local homecomings could help kids who feel alone to realize they are not and might help lower their risk for depression.