More than 2 million children have been affected by the military deployment of at least one parent within the past decade, and thousands have had to cope with a parent’s death or traumatic injury, experts say.
Therefore, it’s imperative that pediatricians and other health care providers address the mental health and well-being of children from U.S. military families, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“This is guidance (for the providers), but it is the first of its kind,” said co-author Dr. Beth Ellen Davis, a pediatrician and retired U.S. Army colonel. “I could think of no better way to honor our service members than to help providers take care of their children.”
The authors looked at previous studies from the past decade about children and parents’ wartime deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“When a parent goes away to war, the common typical response is that all children experience stress around that,” Davis said. “Most children adjust after a short period of time.”
Further help may be needed if the stress becomes excessive. Without treatment, children are at risk for behavioral, social and emotional problems. Early childhood distress can even affect brain development, David said. “We want to get them help, support and resources as soon as possible if it appears that a child is not handling the stress as a child commonly would.”
The studies found sadness and worry are common among children when a parent is deployed. One in four children experienced symptoms of depression, and more than half reported trouble sleeping.