THURSDAY, May 19 (HealthDay News) -- Children whose parents are
deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq face a higher risk of psychiatric
problems requiring hospitalization, a new study indicates.
Researchers from the Uniformed Services University of the Health
Sciences tracked over 375,000 children, aged 9 to 17, whose parents
were on active duty between 2007 and 2009.
"There was a 10 percent increased risk of hospitalization among children 9 to 17 whose parents were deployed," said Dr. Jeffrey Millegan, disaster and preventive psychiatry fellow at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
He presented the finding this week at the American Psychiatric
Association's annual meeting in Honolulu.
In all, the investigators found that 2,533 children in the study
were hospitalized for a mental or behavioral health problem,
staying a median of eight days.
Of that, about one-third, or 858 children, had parents who were
deployed during the study period.
After taking into account factors such as past history of
psychiatric problems, Millegan arrived at the 10 percent increased
risk. When he looked at the parents' length of deployment, he found
the link only held up when the parent was gone longer than six
More attention needs to be paid to the mental health of children
of active duty military parents when they are deployed, the
What can parents do to lessen the impact? While resilience
research is still in its infancy, Millegan suggested that family
doctors should ask parents about to be deployed how their children
Parents and others who are aware of the risk, he said, may
better catch mental health problems when they are less serious than
those needing hospitalization.
The study was deemed novel by Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, chair of
the American Psychiatric Association's Council on Communications,
who moderated the Monday news conference announcing the
"There really hasn't been this kind of research up until now on the effect on the children," he said. Previous research has linked a parent's deployment to war with increased anxiety and behavioral problems in their children.
Borenstein said the finding about length of deployment having an
effect on the child's mental health was of particular interest.
With further research, he said, the number of times a parent is
deployed would likely be found to have an effect, too.
For now, he said, the research can help inform those involved
and alert them to try to minimize the risk.
Millegan also found that children with a past history of mental
health problems were more likely to have them again. The civilian
parent's past psychiatric history also affected the child's risk of
hospitalization for mental health problems.
The increased mental health problems, Millegan said, are likely
related to the obvious family disruption that occurs when a major
caregiver leaves for a period of time.
Other research has found that mental health issues can affect
both the deployed parent and the parent who stays home, suggesting
there could be a trickle-down effect. "It's quite clear that [the
mental health issues faced by the parents] can have an influence on
the children," he said.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data
should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed
To learn more about how to help children with deployed parents,
Our Military Kids.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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