Military Life Stressors, Family Communication and Satisfaction: Associations with Children’s Psychosocial Outcomes

Abstract

Families experience multiple stressors as a result of military service. The purpose of this study was to examine facets of military life and family factors that may impact child psychosocial and mental health functioning. Using baseline data from the Millennium Cohort Family Study, this study examined family demographics and composition (age, number of children), military life stressors (injury, family, and deployment stressors), family communication and satisfaction as assessed by the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale-IV, parental social functioning assessed via the Short Form Health Survey-36, and child mental health and behavioral functioning (parental reports of clinician-diagnosed mental health conditions such as depression) and an adapted version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Injury- and family-related military stressors were significant indicators of heightened risk for child mental health conditions, whereas greater levels of parental social functioning and family satisfaction were associated with lower risk of child mental health conditions. Differential associations were found in child functioning when military-related variables (e.g., service component), sociodemographic, and family composition factors (number and age of the children in the home) were examined. These findings underscore the importance of examining the “whole child” within the broader ecological and military family context to understand factors associated with children’s mental and behavioral health. The results from the present study highlight the complex relationships that may be at play, which, in turn, have considerable implications for the development of policies to support children and families encountering multiple stressors related to a parent’s military service.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful for the contributions of the other members of the Millennium Cohort Family Study Team, including Lauren Bauer, MPH; Carlos Carballo, MS; Tara Earl, PhD, MSW; Alejandro Esquivel, MPH; Cynthia LeardMann, MPH; Ellen T. Gerrity, PhD; Lisa Amaya-Jackson MD, MPH; Hope McMaster, PhD; Sabrina Richardson, PhD; Christianna Williams, PhD; Sharmini Radakrishnan, PhD; Evelyn Sun, MPH, PhD; and Kelly Woodall, MPH. In addition, the authors express deep gratitude to the Family Study participants, without whom this study would not be possible.

Disclaimer

I am a military service member or employee of the U.S. Government. This work was prepared as part of my official duties. Title 17, U.S.C. §105 provides that copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the U.S. Government. Title 17, U.S.C. §101 defines a U.S. Government work as work prepared by a military service member or employee of the U.S. Government as part of that person’s official duties.

Report No. 18–57 was supported by the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery under work unit no. N1240. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, nor the U.S. Government.

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Briggs, E.C., Fairbank, J.A., Tunno, A.M. et al. Military Life Stressors, Family Communication and Satisfaction: Associations with Children’s Psychosocial Outcomes. Journ Child Adol Trauma 13, 75–87 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-019-00259-z

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Keywords

  • Parental deployment
  • Family functioning
  • Military families
  • Child and adolescent mental health outcomes