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Stress in Children of Iraq War Soldiers

By

Updated January 29, 2012

Many soldiers are returning from the Iraq War showing signs of PTSD and other difficulties, and the impact the war can also increase levels of stress in children of veterans.

Studies examining the psychological impact of soldiers deployed in Iraq for the Iraq War are growing. Their findings are showing that many returning service members are showing signs of PTSD, depression, and alcohol use problems.

However, we often don't pay enough attention to the family members of these soldiers and what they are going through. Having a family member serving in Iraq can be stressful. Family members may not often hear from their loved one. They may not know what kind of dangers their loved one is experiencing, and they may constantly be exposed to upsetting news stories about the war, which may only add to their worry.

The War's Effect on Children of Serving Family Members

This stress may be particularly great among the children of those serving. One study examined stress levels among adolescents with family members serving in Iraq at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003 and when the end of "major hostilities" was declared in May 2003.

At both points in time, they found that adolescents with family members serving in Iraq had higher heart-rate levels (a sign that they may have been under high levels of stress) as compared to adolescents with civilian parents and adolescents with parents in the military who were not deployed. They also found that at both points in time, the adolescents with military parents showed symptoms of PTSD. This was especially the case for the adolescents with a parent who was deployed.

What Can Be Done

Families, especially children, may experience high levels of stress when a member of that family is serving in a war. Fortunately, people are beginning to recognize the need to provide resources to families of service members in Iraq.

The National Center for PTSD provides a handbook for families of returning service members. The handbook provides important information on what families can expect, how to communicate well with a returning family member, how to identify potential signs of problems (like PTSD), and resources for getting help. The Sidran Institute also provides some helpful information on how to help your child cope with traumatic experiences, whether they are experienced directly or learned of through the media. Finally, Sesame Workshop provides some helpful information for children who have a family member that is deployed to or returning from Iraq.

Source:

Barnes, V.A., Davis, H., & Treiber, F.A. (2007). Perceived stress, heart rate, and blood pressure among adolescents with family members deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Military Medicine, 172, 40-43.

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