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Suicide Prevention Among Military Children

& the direct relation to Veteran and armed forces members' suicide prevention


There are over 4 million Americans with at least one parent who has served in the armed forces in the last 20 years and over half of our active military service members (including Reserves and Guard) have at least one child. With a good percentage of our population connected to the military in some capacity, it’s important for us to be aware of the ways in which military family’s mental health are impacted—both good and bad.


Tragically, suicide rates among our youth are increasing across the board regardless of background and/or connection to the military. Advocating for mental health access and awareness is essential to helping reduce these numbers. Identifying the the challenges and struggles our military children face is essential when discussing mental health because it can be very different than that of civilian children. Our military children experience a variety of events that can impact their mental, physical and emotional health. In fact, one study estimated that military children might experience suicidal ideation at a rate 10% higher than that of average civilian children.


Why are our military children at a higher risk for these tendencies?


Relocation


Many military families experience relocation and moving frequently—in some cases moving 2.4 times more frequently. This can compound the stress children experience because of friendships, community connections, continuity of health care and the disruption of hobbies or sports among other things. However, relocation doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.


Positive results from relocation experiences can include:

·         Exposure to new experiences

·         Experience new cultures

·         Discover new opportunities otherwise unlikely as a civilian

·         Networking opportunities

·         Character growth not as easily obtained by civilian children

·         Reinforced mental health stamina



Family Separation


It’s no secret that many service members spend a lot of mandatory time away from their families. These separations aren’t just limited to deployments (although deployments do seem to have the greatest impact on families), but mandatory trainings, field days etc. can also contribute to the service member’s absence from their family. In fact, being separated from their families is the number one problem service members express when asked what the hardest part about their jobs are. Separation is a necessary part of service, but with the development of new technology, staying connected to family and friends is significantly easier than it was in the past.


Positive outcomes recognized through family separation include:

·         Spouses/older children explore new tasks & skills that the absent parent typically maintains

·         Opportunity to expand skill sets and become more self-sustaining

·         Independence and self-sustaining behavior can help lessen the load when the separated family member returns

·         Strengthened mental health when give opportunities to learn new skill sets and work on problem solving skills



Adaptation to Danger


Many if not most military families are very familiar with guns and gun ownership. Gun ownership provides the opportunity for parents to teach their children the importance of respect and authority when it comes to firearms which can lead to safe and responsible gun ownership for the next generation—which is a great thing to strive for! Unfortunately, studies indicate that many gun owning families (specifically Veteran) do not keep their firearms safe or secure. This relationship with irresponsible and unsafe gun ownership can be passed down to the next generation and encourage unsafe firearm ownership practices. These adaptations to danger can either help or harm a child’s mental health, depending on the values they’re taught regarding dangerous situations.


Encourage responsible gun ownership by:

·         Advocating for use of gun locks & safes

·         Store ammo away from firearm

·         Keep key/code away from child

·         Educate child on proper and safe firearm handling/use



Military Culture


The negative mental health stigma is something that is well known and recognized in the military. Fears surrounding fit for duties, responsibilities and career repercussions due to mental health services use is a very real problem among our military members. This negative stigma can be passed down to their children. However, parents have the power (and duty) to encourage the positive perception of mental health in their family.


This looks like:

·         Healthy examples of respect for mental healthcare

·         Examples on using mental healthcare for treatment and/or services when necessary

·         Encouragement to seek out and ask for help when needed


Values and positive characteristics that are very valuable things to have as one matures into adulthood:

o   Respect

o   hard work

o   team mentality

o   pride

o   putting others before themselves


While there is concern about the mental health of military families across the globe, it is safe to say that the resiliency and strength often displayed by military families can help overcome any mental health challenges they face. If military families arm themselves with the knowledge of taking care of their own mental health through challenging times, our fears surrounding mental health crises—specifically suicidal ideation—can be alleviated through knowing families have the tools needed to anticipate and address those issues.


Mental health support and ultimately suicide prevention among our military men and women will have ripple effects among the youth. Military children will see the examples from their parents and follow in those footsteps to hopefully prioritize self-care, mental health care and overall emotional well-being.


-Samantha Bunker


 

We have a new training that teaches you how to protect your military child, with resources meant to encourage you and help you see warning signs and know the risk factors.


You can take that course for FREE here:



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