Military Families’ Emotional State Showing Signs of Strain
Research highlights opportunities for improved and targeted support
January 19, 2011
ALEXANDRIA, VA January 19, 2011— Months of wartime deployments are taking their toll on the spouses and children of military service members. A year-long study sponsored by the National Military Family Association and conducted by the RAND Corporation, finds military youth are experiencing higher than average emotional difficulties and anxiety symptoms compared to the national average. Additionally, the study revealed that youth whose parents had more cumulative months of deployment reported more difficulties. This reinforces the need for continued support services, even for the seasoned military families, that are specifically designed to address the strain of repeat separations.
Study youth and spouses cited the greatest stress on the military family is the absence of the service member at home. Nearly 70% of military teens and tweens who participated in the study report the greatest difficulties of deployment are dealing with life without their deployed parent and helping their nondeployed caregiver (in most instances, mom or dad) cope with life without the deployed parent. Many spouses (62%) in the study and more than half (54%) of the youth also cited that fitting the service member back into their lives at the end of the deployment was equally difficult.
Baseline findings of the study were published in the January 2010 journal, Pediatrics, and hold true over the course of the study. However, follow-up interviews found the spouses of service members in the National Guard and Reserves reported poorer emotional well-being and greater household challenges than their full-time active duty peers. It was also clear that good family communication was associated with fewer household challenges. In this context, good communication refers to the perception of empathy and understanding between parent and child.
Opportunities to Target Support
Many military families are faring well given the additional household responsibilities and negotiation of family member roles in the home. It is important to help these families remain strong. The findings will help us to better identify families with the following characteristics who have a chance of experiencing greater challenges:
- Military youth whose caregiver had poorer emotional well-being
- Military youth whose deployed parent had more cumulative months of deployment
- Older teens coping during deployment
- Girls dealing with reintegration of a parent back into the family
- Caregivers and youth with poorer communication quality
- Caregivers whose loved one is a National Guard or Reserve service member
“After nine years at war, this is a strong reminder that a one-size-fits-all approach to family support does not work,” stated Joyce Raezer, Executive Director for the National Military Family Association. “These findings will help all of us serving military families to evaluate the effectiveness of existing support programs and better target our work in the future.”
Road Map for Communities
The initial findings served as a catalyst for discussion by a panel of experts from the fields of military family support, childhood development, women’s issues, and behavioral health. The National Military Family Association brought these experts together for a two-day summit to find pragmatic means to address the impact of deployments on military families. The discussions from that summit, the findings from this research, and input from dozens of additional interviews is packed into a new resource to be released in February. Finding Common Ground: A Toolkit for Communities Supporting Military Families outlines practical approaches to reducing the challenges many families may experience.
This new toolkit is a timely resource. As more and more evidence reveals the needs of military families and budget concerns demand careful evaluation of priorities, community organizations and our Nation’s leaders will now have a road map to best strengthen service members and their families at home.
About the Study
The study is the first evaluation over time of military families of all ranks and Service branches to assess the impact of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan on military spouses and children. Military families who applied to have their child(ren) attend one of the National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple® Camps were invited to participate in the study. A sample of 1,127 military children between the ages of 11 and 17 and their nondeployed caregiver, in most cases their mother or father, participated in the study. Effort was made to ensure the sample population reflected the Service and component composition of deploying personnel at the time. The study included three phone interviews with each child and three interviews with their nondeployed parent conducted between the summers of 2008 and 2009. To access the research brief or full report click here.
About the National Military Family Association
The National Military Family Association is the leading nonprofit dedicated to serving the families who stand behind the uniform. Since 1969, NMFA has worked to strengthen and protect millions of families through its advocacy and programs. They provide spouse scholarships, camps for military kids, and retreats for families reconnecting after deployment and for the families of the wounded, ill, or injured. NMFA serves the families of the currently serving, retired, wounded or fallen members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Commissioned Corps of the USPHS and NOAA. To get involved or to learn more, visit www.MilitaryFamily.org.
Until military families are relieved of the weight of war, we hope you will continue to contribute to their wellbeing.
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