Military teens have a higher risk of suicide. A recent study in California shows that adolescents from military families are more likely than non-military youth to think about, plan and attempt suicide, according to a new study.
Researchers found that nearly 12 percent of military-connected youth reported attempting suicide, compared to 7 percent of non-military-connected youth. Approximately 24 percent of military-connected youth reported seriously considering suicide compared to 18 percent of civilian youth.
The research can be found here from researchers at the University of Southern California and Bar Ilan University in Israel. Additional data can be found from the California Healthy Kids Survey.
But why are military kids at higher risk of suicide? STRESS and lots of it.
- Stress at school: Try being the new kid on the block ever few years at school. Imagine what it’s like to make new friends at a new school every couple of years. Think about going from being a star athlete at your last school to not even being able to make the team at your next school. What about having to retake a class you have already taking because the new school district will not accept your credits? Or perhaps feeling the pressure of having to explain to other students what your mom or dad actually does in the military.
- Stress of separation: Deployment of your parents is virtually a reality. Most kids see their parents pack up for deployments or for school assignments that last for a few months to years. It’s never fun for your parents to leave. Leaving adds a tremendous amount of stress to every member of the family. If a students parent is a career member of the military they will see them leave many times.
- Stress of a parent never returning: The reality is that we live in a time of conflict and many of our military member sacrifice their lives. The amount of stress that comes with the knowledge that your mom or dad might not return from their next assignment is beyond explanation.
- Stress when a parent does return: It’s difficult to explain the dynamics that happen in military families when a deployed family member returns. I’ve been there and know firsthand. Re-assimilating back into a family unit is difficult. When you have functioned without someone for months or years and they return there are new rules, the kids have grown, and the overall family dynamics have changed.
- Stress to be all grown up: “You have to be the man of the house,” or “Your dad is going to rely on you to help with your little sister.” Children in military families find themselves growing up faster then they should or their parents would like. Theses quotes are true and telling.
- Stress of conflict: All of the above stress factors create tension within families. Then add in the additional stress that each military member must face and you have a recipe for conflict. This conflict can and often does result in heated arguments, fights and the breakdown of the family. So many of our adolescent students feel the responsibility to “hold everyone together.”
So is there anything we can do to help? Sure there is, and it starts by understanding the unique pressure our military students are under, and to help them build resilience.
We have to be aware of the signs of stress and address them sooner rather than later. We need to give our military students opportunities to express their unique prospective and feelings. Being sensitive to their need to decompress is vital as well. Often we focus on the military member, as we should, but we can’t neglect the family.
Allow me this disclaimer, I’m not a doctor, psychologist, or a therapist. However as veteran Army officer, and son of a career officer I understand where these students are coming from. I have personally experienced all these stressful situations from both sides of the issue.
For additional information see http://www.military.com/spouse/military-life/is-your-military-teen-at-risk-for-suicide.html