separation from a parent or may be caused by the parent’s PTSD symptoms of avoidance or hyperarousal. In general, boys and younger children appear to be more vulnerable to symptoms of depression related to the parent’s deployment. Results of several studies support an association between deployment and adverse psychosocial effects on children.
Jensen et al. (1996) conducted a study of 480 families with children 4-17 years old, randomly selected from a sample of families living on a military base near Washington, DC; 383 families completed all or part of the survey. Although the study emphasized the children’s reactions to their parents’ deployment for Operation Desert Storm, it also considered the effect of deployment on the caretaker parents and the marriages. Almost all the parents were married (94.4%), and the racial distribution of the families was 52.5% non-Hispanic white, 30.9% black, and 9.0% Hispanic. Both of the parents and the children completed a wide array of surveys and questionnaires that assessed behavior, depression, anxiety, and social assets. Families were divided into those with a soldier-parent who was deployed to the Gulf War and those with a soldier-parent who was not deployed and remained on the military base. The researchers also compared the results of the assessments with an assessment of some of the same families a year earlier, before deployment. Prior to deployment of any parents, there were no meaningful differences in terms of the children’s or parent’s self-reported behaviors and parent or family functioning between families where a parent would deploy and those where no parent deployed. Children whose parents had deployed scored moderately higher on the Children’s Depression Inventory than those with nondeployed parents (8.06 vs 5.33), but there were no other significant differences in reports of the children’s anxiety level or behavior. Boys had more dysfunction than girls, regardless of the girl’s parent’s deployment status and boys with a deployed parent were more likely to have increased dysfunction than boys with a nondeployed parent. Deployment itself rarely provoked pathologic symptoms in otherwise healthy children. Parents with deployed spouses reported more depression and higher levels of life stressors than those parents whose spouses had not deployed. The same differences seen between caretaking parents’ reports of depression for those with and without a deployed spouse were again found after control for level of depression before deployment (p ≤ 0.001). Likewise, there continued to be significant predeployment and postdeployment differences in reported stress levels of the caretaking parent. There were no predeployment and postdeployment differences in marital adjustment, social supports, or coping. The data indicate that it is deployment itself, rather than pre-existing differences in the parents’ levels of depression or stress, that is related to the caregiving parents’ increase in stress and depression during their spouses’ deployment. The authors suggest that many young families have particular difficulty with even temporary-duty separations, perhaps because they also have less experience with a military lifestyle. The authors note that the findings do not suggest that the caretaking parents cause their children’s symptoms of depression; instead, the interrelationships between caretaking parent, child, and absent deployed parent contribute to a complex outcome.
Rosen et al. (1993) explored caretaker parents’ reactions to the responses of 1601 children to questions about their other parents’ Gulf War deployment. Results were similar to those of Jensen et al. (1996). Although the children expressed sadness and had eating and sleeping problems, among other symptoms of distress, the most important predictor of a child’s symptoms was the expression of symptoms of distress by other members of the household. This study lacked direct input from the children themselves, but the findings support an association between deployment and adverse psychologic effects on children, which association seems to be mediated by its effect on the parent.