The findings reveal that ninth- and 11-grade students who had experienced two or more family member deployments over the past decade were 56 percent more likely to feel sad or hopeless and 34 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts, compared with their peers.
The study is one of very few that compare students from military families to their non-military peers, said study leader Julie Cederbaum, Ph.D., an assistant professor of social work at USC.
Less than one percent of the U.S. population has been on active duty at any point in time since the attacks of September 11, 2001, according to the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. Military kids may feel isolated with so few peers who can share and understand their experiences, said the researchers.
For the study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the researchers included an extra military questionnaire to go with a statewide survey administered every two years to public schools in California.
Of the 14,300 students surveyed, less than 14 percent reported having a connection with the military.
The results showed that kids with a family member in the military had higher rates of depression, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts than non-military peers.
When they adjusted for a variety of factors, the differences seemed to be largely driven by the number of family member deployments the teens experienced.
When the researchers compared only the teens with military connections, they found those with one deployment in the family were 15 percent more likely to feel depressed than kids with no deployment experiences, and those with two or more deployments were 41 percent more likely to report symptoms of depression.
“There is the stress of being concerned and worried about the parent or sibling who has been deployed,” Cederbaum said.
“While contact has improved drastically, you don’t always know how well they are doing.”
After comparing the results to recent statistics for U.S. teens in general, Cederbaum’s team writes that 28.5 percent of all teens report feeling sad or hopeless, while 33.7 percent of teens with a parent in the military and 35.3 percent with a sibling in the military reported sadness or hopelessness in the new study.
The findings also showed that 24.8 percent of kids with a parent in the military and 26.1 percent with a sibling in the military reported suicidal thoughts. This is compared to about 15 percent in the general teen population.
“Part of the experience of depression can be isolation. Kids need to be able to connect with one another and know that others feel the way they do,” Cederbaum said.