According to a comprehensive survey recently released by the Department of Defense, the number of military families seeking mental health services for their kids has sharply increased since the start of the war in Iraq. Last year, children with one or more parents in the military sought outpatient mental health care 2 million times, double the number since the beginning of the Iraq War. And the number of children hospitalized for psychiatric problems has increased by 20 percent from 2007 to 2008.
The military is looking into the causes of this sharp increase in mental health treatments, but it could be related to stress about the economic recession or to children’s sense that the war doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. With average deployments lasting between a year and 15 months, it makes sense that young children would be anxious and depressed as the war drags on.
A more positive interpretation of the new survey is that military families feel more comfortable seeking mental health treatments than ever before. Still, the military acknowledges that it has a serious shortage of therapists.
Congress has allocated $7 million to programs aimed at helping military families, including distributing books and videos that help kids cope with the stress of having a parent overseas. While such programs are essential as long as parents are deployed on long tours of duty, let’s hope they won’t be necessary for much longer.