Child and adolescent behavioral health clinicians have always been invested in the mental health needs of our youngest clients. They have a profound understanding of how biology, family, community, and systems impact youth mental health. Mental health needs for children and adolescents continue to rise to an unsurpassed level. Nearly one in five children have a diagnosable mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or ADHD and according to the Centers for Disease Control, 44% of high school students reported feelings of hopelessness and 37% reported poor mental health in a 2021 report (CDC, 2022). Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, suicide rates for children and adolescents ages 10-24 increased 57% (Curtin, 2020). While the pandemic may have shed light on the increase in need for pediatric mental health treatment, there continues to be a shortage of clinicians that are trained to work with children and teens. The shortage of trained clinicians is also impacting military children and adolescents at a staggering rate.
In addition to the common stressors that young people experience, military children and teens also have experiences that are unique to their nonmilitary peers. Whether on or off a military installation, there are additional factors that impact our military-connected youth’s mental health. For instance, consider the impact of caring for a family member with an invisible or visible injury, parental deployment, multiple school placements and frequent relocation (Lucier-Greer et al., 2014). These unique stressors can also contribute to social isolation, limited access to available resources and decreased continuity of care in mental health treatment-all dangers to mental health and well-being. In one study of military youth, it was noted that there was an increase in mental health visits, emergency room visits, and psychiatric hospitalizations if there was a move within the same year (Huebner, 2019). Research also notes an increase in need for mental health treatment for school age children during times of parental deployment (Huebner, 2019). The unique stressors of military children, increased need of services during times that military youth are experiencing these stressors coupled with lack of available providers creates an opportunity for mental health crisis.
In efforts to increase access, training, and support to military kids and families, the Center for Deployment Psychology in partnership with Kennedy Krieger Institute (Baltimore, MD) has launched the DoD Child Collaboration Study to address the specialized health and behavioral health care needs of military kids.
The Department of Defense Child Collaboration Study aims to enhance and expand health and behavioral health care for military children in four ways:
The overall goal of the DoD Collaboration Study is to examine the potential benefits and barriers to increased use of telehealth and tele-education with providers who treat military-connected children. By increasing training on best practices and promoting use of telehealth as a standard of care, the project aims to increase access to care, increase continuity of care and potentially reduce mental health disparities among military-connected youth.
The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.
Khristine Heflin, MSW, LCSW-C, LCSW, LICSW, is a licensed Clinical Social Worker and has been practicing since 2006. Currently, she serves as a Military Child Social Worker with the Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences located in Bethesda, MD.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, March 31). New CDC data illuminate youth mental health threats during the COVID-19 pandemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2022/p0331-youth-mental-health-covid-19.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, April 27). Improving access to children's mental health care. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 27, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/access.html
Curtin, S.C. (2020). State suicide rates among adolescents and young adults aged 10-24: United States, 2000-2018. National vital statistics reports: from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. Retrieved August 26, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33054915/
Huebner, C. D. R. C. (2019). Health and mental health needs of children in US military families. Pediatric Mental Health: A Compendium of AAP Clinical Practice Guidelines and Policies, 363–375. https://doi.org/10.1542/9781610023658-part07-health_and_mental
Lucier-Greer, M., O'Neal, C. W., Arnold, A. L., Mancini, J. A., & Wickrama, K. K. A. S. (2014). Adolescent mental health and academic functioning: Empirical support for contrasting models of risk and vulnerability. Military Medicine, 179(11), 1279–1287. https://doi.org/10.7205/milmed-d-14-00090