Kids with deployed parent Require Mental Health Services

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According to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, children with a parent who has been deployed make 18% more trips to the doctor for behavioral problems and 19% more visits for stress disorders. The study has been slated to be the most deeply researched study, related to the use of health insurance among such families during the wartime.

The most common health concerns during this period of time were usually related to acting out at school, depression, insomnia and anxiety. However, in contrast the study also noted that problems related to the physical health of the children decreased.

While talking about the study, a Psychologist at the University of California, Benjamin Karney stated that the study gave an excellent understanding of what was happening to these children, when their parent was deployed during the wartime.

"This study gives us an excellent beginning to understand what’s happening in military households.” said Karney. “It’s pretty amazing that they were able to look at essentially the entire military population and strongly document something we suspected was happening but didn’t know for sure.”

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“It’s not clear yet whether kids are in fact suffering more mental problems when a parent is deployed, or that mothers are more attendant to any shift in behavior,” Karney said. “That’s the next question we have to ask.”

The rates were highest for 7- and 8-year-olds in two-parent families. This may be because when single parents deploy, children are left with caregivers who are less sensitive to changes in behavior and therefore less likely to seek treatment.

One possible explanation is that the parent remaining at home may be more likely to manifest their own mental health issues or that mothers are more likely to transfer their own mental health symptoms onto the child. A depressed mother may be more likely to perceive mental health issues in her child and seek medical attention for them, the study said.

Important to note is that children of single military parents have lower rates of mental and behavioral health visits than children whose parents are married. During their parent's deployment most of these children live with extended family or temporary guardians and the caregiver may not know how to access health care for the child and also may not be well enough acquainted with a child's "normal" behavior to recognize a problem.

The new study may actually underestimate the psychological stress on military families because it included all branches of the service, instead of concentrating on the Army and Marines, who have done most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, says Deborah Gibbs of RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C., author of the maltreatment study. The new study also excludes the Reserves and National Guard, some of whose members have completed multiple tours of duty.

Researchers note more studies need to be performed to understand why children of deployed parents require more mental health services.

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