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New AAP Report Outlines Vulnerability of Military Children to Mental Illnesses

Update Date: May 28, 2013 02:12 PM EDT

A new report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends pediatricians to pay extra attention to the mental health statuses of children from military families. According to the report, children with parents stationed in combat zones are at a high risk of developing mental disorders. The AAP stated that one out of four children with parents who have been deployed during wartime has dealt with depression symptoms with over a third of military children in general experiencing excessive worrying. Due to these rates, the AAP stresses the importance of keeping an eye on the mental health statuses of these vulnerable children.

The report stated that nearly 20 percent of children with a deployed parent or family member suffer from poor coping skills. Another 20 percent of these children have academic problems. Some of them, however, do develop resiliency, responsibility and independence. Since deployment is not consistent, it can affect children at different stages of life as well as for different time lengths. Nearly a half of military parents that have been deployed once will have repeated assignments lasting from at least a year and longer.

"In some families, this can really be a perfect storm for mental health issues," Carla Allan, Ph.D said, reported by MedPage Today. Allan is from the Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, MO. "We know that a number of these families do well, and many children go on to develop very healthy coping skills. But there are some families that are at risk for developing coping difficulties, a result that is influenced by the child's temperament. Children we are more anxious, or reactive, are more likely to have difficulties."

Not only are these children more susceptible when a family member gets deployed, they are also influenced by the family member when he/she returns. Previous research studies have found that military personal, especially those in combat, have a high risk of developing posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and traumatic brain injury. These factors could also influence how children grow and potentially develop disorders mimicking their parents.

These factors are not the only ones that could affect the mental health of children. Since mental health is not always easily detectable, the report stresses to doctors to be patient with children and to remember to pay extra attention for indicators of mental health disorders. By being more aware of these children and their behaviors, doctors could ideally help prevent conditions from worsening.

The report was published in Pediatrics

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