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High Rates of Mental Disorders Found in Children of Deployed Soldiers

November 30, 2010

Teen, Depression, Adolescent, PsychiatryThe effects of military deployment on family members left behind is becoming an increasing cause of concern for physicians. Previous research(1) has found that the wives of deployed soldiers have higher rates of depressive disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, and acute stress reactions compared to women whose husbands are not deployed. Gregory Gorman, MD, MHS, and colleagues recently studied the effects of deployment on military children.(2)

Gorman and colleagues(2) studied the records of 642,397 military children between 3 and 8 years of age (mean age=5 years). The researchers focused on this age range because they found previous patients in this age range to have an increase in behavioral concerns during this very important developmental period. All of these children had a parent on active military duty in the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, or the Marines during the fiscal years of 2006 and 2007. On average, 32% of parents were deployed at the time of the study and 90% of the children had a male military parent.

The researchers used International Classification of Diseases, 9th Edition(3) criteria to assess the children’s mental health. The most common stressors found in these children are frequent moves, prolonged parental absences, and the risk of a parent’s death.

Gorman and colleagues found that 30.1% of these children had ADD; 14.6% had adjustment disorders; 12.1% had autistic disorders; and 11.0% had speech and language disorders. The children also suffered from mood disorders, anxiety disorders, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disturbance not otherwise specified (NOS), hyperkinetic syndrome NOS, developmental coordination disorder, developmental delay NOS, PTSD, enuresis, and separation anxiety. They hypothesize that the rate of visits for ADD and autism increased because the conditions worsened the longer a parent was deployed. These conditions became increasingly difficult for the at-home parent to manage alone, thus, they sought treatment for their child’s condition.

The study also found that 65% of these children are receiving treatment from civilian pediatricians and average 6.2 outpatient visits per year. Gorman and colleagues found that, when a parent is deployed, there is an 11% increase in mental and behavioral health visits, an 18% increase in stress disorders, and a 19% increase in behavioral disorders.

These findings suggest that it is extremely important for civilian pediatricians to be aware of the conditions military children are susceptible to, who may require unique therapeutic strategies. —Christopher Naccari

References

1. Mansfield AJ, Kaufman JS, Marshall SW, et al. Deployment and the use of mental health services among U.S. Army wives. N Eng J Med. 2010;362(2):168-170.

2. Gorman G, Edie M, Hisle-Gorman E. Wartime military deployment and increased pediatric mental and behavioral health complaints. Pediatrics. 2010 Nov 8. ePub ahead of print.

3.  International Classification of Diseases. 9th ed. Practice Management Information Corporation, 1977.

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