For military families affected by wartime deployment, a preventive intervention aimed at each individual family member can lead to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP).
The findings highlight significant reductions in anxiety and depression symptoms among the deployed parent, the home-based parent, and their children after the intervention.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have led to the deployment of more than 2.5 million service members since 2001, with many of these service members experiencing more than one deployment. Approximately 45 percent of those deployed have dependent children.
An intervention known as FOCUS (Families Overcoming Under Stress) uses a family-centered methodology to address the impact that traumatic and stressful situations, such as parental deployment, have on each member of the family.
The strength-based preventative intervention is offered in eight provider-led sessions. It is designed to bridge gaps in the continuum of behavioral health care for military families and has been used by more than 600,000 individuals in the U.S.
In previous studies, FOCUS was able to demonstrate preliminary effectiveness in improving family adjustment and reducing parent and child psychological health risk symptoms. For the new study, researchers examined the sustained impact of FOCUS for each family member over time.
Led by Dr. Patricia Lester, of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, a group of researchers looked at data from a sample of 2,615 active duty military families, living at designated military installations with a child between the ages of three and 17.
They examined the impact of FOCUS on behavioral health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and child pro-social behavior over two follow up assessments.
Overall, there was an improvement in outcomes for both the military and civilian parent with significant reductions in clinically meaningful anxiety and depression symptoms (23 percent at intake to 11 percent at follow up). These findings remained relatively consistent at both follow up assessments after completion of the FOCUS intervention.
Children who participated in FOCUS also experienced a reduction in self-reported anxiety symptoms (from 14.5 percent at intake to 11.8 percent). Children also displayed positive prosocial behavior that continued to improve between assessments.
The findings of improvement for both children and parents alike provide further support for this intervention, highlighting the importance and potential of family-level prevention and intervention when it comes to enhancing the well-being of military children and families.