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Mental Health of Children of Deployed and Nondeployed US Military Service Members

The Millennium Cohort Family Study

Fairbank, John A., PhD*,†,‡; Briggs, Ernestine C., PhD†,‡,§; Lee, Robert C., MS†,‡; Corry, Nida H., PhD; Pflieger, Jacqueline C., PhD; Gerrity, Ellen T., PhD†,‡; Amaya-Jackson, Lisa M., MD, MPH†,‡,§; Stander, Valerie A., PhD**; Murphy, Robert A., PhD‡,§

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: December 2018 - Volume 39 - Issue 9 - p 683–692
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0000000000000606
Original Article

Objective: Families experience multiple stressors as a result of military service. The purpose of this study was to investigate the associations among service member deployment experiences, family and military factors, and children's mental health using baseline data from the Millennium Cohort Family Study, a study designed to evaluate the health and mental health effects of military service on families, including children.

Method: This study examined administrative data on deployment status (combat, noncombat, and no deployments), as well as service member– and spouse-reported data on deployment experiences and family functioning in relation to the mental health of children in the family who were aged 9 to 17 years.

Results: Most children were not reported to have mental health, emotional, or behavioral difficulties regardless of parental deployment status. For an important minority of children, however, parental deployments with combat, compared with those with no deployment, were associated with a parental report of attention-deficit disorder/attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression as diagnosed by a clinical provider, after accounting for demographics, psychosocial context, and military factors. Children's odds of a parental report of depression were significantly higher in both the combat and the noncombat deployment groups than in the no deployment group.

Conclusion: These findings extend our understanding of the association between parental deployments and children's mental health, with implications for services and training mental health providers serving military families.

*Mid-Atlantic (VISN 6) Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, Durham VA Medical Center, Durham, NC;

UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, Durham, NC;

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC;

§Center for Child and Family Health, Durham, NC;

Division of Health and Environment, Abt Associates, US Health Division, Research Triangle Park, NC;

Military Population Health, Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, CA;

**Deployment Health Department, Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, CA.

Address for reprints: John A. Fairbank, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University School of Medicine, 1121 West Chapel Hill St, Suite 201, Durham, NC 27701; e-mail:

Report No. 17-905 was supported by the Defense Health Program, Defense Health Agency, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs under work unit no. N1240.

Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Disclaimer: I am a military service member (or employee of the US Government). This work was prepared as part of my official duties. Title 17 U.S.C. § 105 provides the “Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government.” Title 17 U.S.C. § 101 defines US Government work as work prepared by a military service member or employee of the US Government as part of that person's official duties.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of the Army, Department of the Air Force, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense, or the US Government. Approved for public release; distribution unlimited. Human subjects participated in this study after providing their free and informed consent. This research has been conducted in compliance with all applicable federal regulations governing the protection of human subjects in research (Protocol NHRC.2015.0019).

Received October , 2017

Accepted June , 2018

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