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08-16 Mental health problems on the rise for military children

Mental health problems on the rise for military children

According to a new study that was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting this May, mental health diagnoses (and treatments) are growing for children with parents in the military.

The study
The study was led by Elizabeth Hisle-Gorman, MSW, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Uniformed Services University’s F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine.

“Mental health diagnoses and care have risen significantly over the last 15 years for military-connected children,” wrote Dr. Hisle-Gorman and colleagues in the abstract they presented at the meeting. “The demand for providers with expertise in pediatric [mental health] needs can be expected to grow.”

The researchers noted that roughly 1.6 million children received care each year from 2001 to 2015 through the Military Health System, an organization within the United States Department of Defense that provides medical care to current and retired military personnel and their dependents.

Back in 2001, only 10 percent of military children were diagnosed with one or more mental illnesses. By 2015, that number had jumped to 16 percent. The presence of adjustment disorders, anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorder, conduct disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders and other mental illnesses all increased during this time period. Suicidal ideation – or thoughts of suicide – demonstrated the greatest increase, rising 22 percent.

Thankfully, the researchers found that this increase of mental health diagnoses was accompanied by an increase in treatment as well. The number of mental health treatment visits for military-connected children doubled during the 15-year period. The percentage of children on psychiatric medication also increased, with 8 percent of children receiving medication in 2002 and 12 percent receiving medication in 2014.

These changes are nothing out of the ordinary. According to the researchers, more children – military or otherwise – have been receiving diagnoses and treatment for mental illness today than in the past.

“These military results mirror national estimates that 9 percent all children had a mental health diagnosis in 1996-1998, and 13 percent of children had a diagnosis in 2010-2012,” said Dr. Hisle-Gorman in a press release. “The results also suggest that there is an increasing need for pediatric mental healthcare professionals to provide the needed care.”

What does this mean?

In the last 15 years, the number of children from military families who have been diagnosed with mental illness has increased significantly. More military children are also being treated for mental illness than in the past.

Although military children may struggle with unique challenges – for instance, an absent parent or a parent who has been injured in combat – children all over the country are being diagnosed and treated for mental illness at an increasing rate as well.

Why? It may have something to do with increased academic pressure, a rough economy or even a lack of playtime. Maybe diets are altering genetic codes, or maybe people are simply more aware of mental health issues than they were in the past. Regardless of the why, it seems clear that military children – and other children – may benefit from mental health intervention. Mental illness is just as real as physical illness, and leaving it untreated can have ramifications throughout a child’s life.

At Sovereign Health, we understand that mental illness is a prominent and pertinent problem for many people living today and our location in Rancho San Diego specifically provides treatment options for adolescents and teens dealing with mental health disorders, substance addiction and co-occurring disorders. We work with the patient’s family, former doctors and therapists to identify and treat his or her unique needs. We provide our patients with cutting-edge treatment programs as well as a full continuum of therapeutic care monitored by licensed health professionals. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for Sovereign Health, where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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