Returning soldiers passing mental health issues to children, raising suicide risk
Published Thursday, March 27, 2014 7:01PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, March 28, 2014 10:20AM EDT
In the past 33 years Greg Lubimiv has helped a lot of children experiencing mental problems. But in the past eight years the number of children from military families receiving treatment has risen drastically.
Lubimiv works for the Phoenix Centre, a children's mental health treatment centre for children and their families across Renfrew County. Part of that area involves Petawawa, which is home to one of Canada’s largest military bases.
Lubimiv says one young boy was experiencing anxiety and phobias when his dad was deployed, but these increased when his dad returned. One of the tactics therapists use is getting children to draw pictures. “He drew a picture of his family before Dad went away and showed the family of four all close together. He then drew a picture of his family after his Dad’s return, and showed three family members together and his Dad in the far edge of the paper, lying down,” he says to Kevin Newman Live.
Skip ahead to the 29-minute mark of the video above to see our full interview with Lubimiv.
Troops were first deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. Between then and 2005, 19 troops died on the battlefield. In 2006, 41 troops died and that is when Lubimiv and his colleagues started to get really busy. Military kids had always been a part of the program, but prior to 2006, Lubimiv says they had less than a dozen military families. By the end of 2006, they had a surge and were treating more than 100 families with another 20 on a waiting list. Lubimiv was assigned to manage the team that specifically works with military families.
While there are no hard facts for Canada, recent stats out of the U.S. show children who have had a close family member deployed two or more times were significantly more likely to contemplate suicide. Researchers at the University of Southern California found a link between deployment history and a variety of mental health problems. Researchers found 18 per cent of teens whose relatives had never been deployed had contemplated suicide, compared to 25 per cent for those whose relatives had been deployed more than once.
This video by the Edmonton Journal shows that magical time when soldiers first see their partners and children after a deployment. But we are learning more and more about how issues as a result of deployment don’t end with coming home.
“The cost of military deployment goes well beyond money and our soldiers’ lives, says Stephen Arndt, a University of Iowa psychologist who was not involved in the study, to the L.A. Times. His work has found children have elevated rates of drug and alcohol use when a parent is deployed.
“The types of issues are really the same as with any child,” says Lubimiv. “The military didn’t create mental health issues, but the reason a soldier or child may have a disorder may be because of a deployment.”
He says there is a lot of additional stress especially when experiencing the death of other soldiers deployed from the base. This creates many issues including anxiety and depression. Children often deal with the world around them by acting in such as withdrawing from society or acting out such as fighting with classmates and not responding to authority.
“Moms and dads returning home and trying to rejoin families and that reunification program seems to be magnified from 2006 until now. On top of that military members are coming back with mental health issues themselves. These bring pressure to partners and children,” he says. Adding that there can be a secondary trauma. “A person experiencing trauma can pass it over to someone they are in a close relationship with.”
Lubimiv also tells us the story of a teen girl who was a B student, involved in sports, social with her friends and enjoyed playing piano. When her parent was deployed, the girl became an A student. “But as we looked closer we were very concerned as she spent no time with friends.” The teen dropped all of her activities, stopped playing piano and spent all of her time studying. “After meeting with her we discovered she was extremely worried about her parent and moved into depression. She started to secretly cut herself and found that one way she could keep herself going through each day was to keep her mind on her studying. Thinking helped her not to feel.”
Lubimiv says when we are in a relationship in despair we internalize it and this sometimes causes a child to think his or her dad hates them.
“Soldiers with mental issues often aren’t able to have the kind of relationship that fosters nurture,” he says. “Moms and dads feeling traumatized isolate themselves and some of that is to protect their families. But in reality it may be more harmful to their family.”
Lubimiv and his colleagues work with the families in helping them love each other. “The military is like putting a magnifying glass on mental health.”