One in five Army kids will need mental health treatment within the first 15 to 16 years of their lives, said the Army's director of psychological health.
But there continues to be a nationwide shortage of child psychologists and child psychiatrists, affecting not just the military community, but the civilian community at large. "We have a mismatch in what we need and what the nation can provide," said Dr. Christopher Ivany, a doctor who is also chief of the Behavioral Health Division/Service Line Office of the Army Surgeon General. Comparing the needs of military children to children in the civilian community, the "broad averages are pretty close," Ivany said, but experts are working on more exact comparisons.
Ivany spoke at a family forum of the annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army, exploring various aspects of research on the effects of deployments on military children, and some programs that help mitigate those effects.
The Army can't just hire enough people to provide mental health care – officials have to work with the community, he said. Through the Child and Family Behavioral Health System, they bring together best practices. Part of that is school behavioral health clinics within Army schools on post at 14 installations. Officials have found children have much easier access to the mental health care they need, he said.
Researchers at RAND Corporation have found in their various studies during the last decade that there are some common elements that can help service providers craft programs that help military children. For example, children who interacted with other military children during deployments tended to fare better, so there are opportunities to facilitate activities for these children, said Terri Tanielian, senior social research analyst for RAND.
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Parents who had deployed reported an increased need for mental health services for their children, and there were increased rates of depression and emotional difficulty in their children, Tanelian said. Teens may have a particularly difficult time with family relationships after the deployment; and the longer the parent was deployed, the greater the difficulty the teen faced. And findings show that a child may be more at risk when the parent is exposed to combat trauma, so programs could be targeted to those children.
But there are still gaps in the research and knowledge about the effects on military children of these deployments, Tanielian said. For example, more longer-term research is needed to consider the effects on children as they age into young adults, she said. And to the best of her knowledge, there have been no studies on college-age military children.
Officials highlighted some programs that are aimed at shoring up the resilience of military children, such as a resilience program for teens, adapted from the program for adults, said Cherri Verschraegen, chief of Child, Youth and School Services for the Army Installation Management Command. It's being piloted at 18 Army installations.