[Guest post by Paul Watson]
Coming from a military background and having been both a forces child and served I have been able empathise with forces families around the issue of a deployed family member. I have also been fortunate to link in with other military families via Twitter and Facebook who share my feelings that we need a Military Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. I have spoken to one mother today who says this service for their children is way over due. Like military personnel, the children and young people of a deployed parent/ family member are unique and in my opinion and that of this mother, we need a service that understands what it is like to be ‘in the forces’.
I have emailed around 20 Military service leaders to ascertain whether there is a service out there specifically for children of deployed parents. To date the replies that I have received state that currently this service does not exist. However, the NHS CAMHS team in Durham and Northumberland are starting to offer training to their current team in the attitudes and customs of military life. I have also received an email from the MOD stating that there is not a MCAMHS in the UK however there is in Germany and Cyprus. Furthermore there are no charities that I have found that support this issue, to date.
I think however, like many of the veterans services that are starting to mobilise throughout the country via the NHS and public sector, we need people who have been in the ‘shoes’ of those we serve, this I would suggest to be empathised individual person centred care. The forces community is a unique family and having lived and served, I along with others feel no one on the ‘outside’ understands what it is like to be in the military family, which is further echoed by those serving. Therefore I would champion that we need to establish groups to work alongside the likes of the NHS and Young Minds to support military children and their families not only when a parent dies but also whilst they are on deployment. It is this gap that I heartedly believe needs filling, a supporting interventions group to aid resilience and keep the minds of our military children and young people healthy.
Having read some of the literature around this issue, I would conclude that this service is very important with regards early intervention, resilience and attachment. The reason I say this is that some of the research from the United States suggest that boys present with anxiety and depression and have raised external behavioural problems both at home and at school. This may be due to them having to step into the paternal role, hence taking on more responsibility and having a differing set of boundaries, only to have these reduce once the deployed parent returns.
In relation to girls, the research suggests that they too present with anxiety and depression, however they internalise these feelings and may self harm as well have behavioural problems. This is suggested to be due to the father-daughter attachment bond, living in fear of what may happen to their parent whilst they are away and what their parent may return with.
To this end I have set up, although not active yet a service that I would hope to reach out to this unique set of children and young people. Via social media I want to be able to enable children and young people to talk to each other, share feelings, emotions and ideas on how to maintain good mental health. Once this service has regular young people I would introduce chat events, again to share with each other and develop education and debate around some of the issues raised by the site users.
I would be grateful if you could take the time to look at the Children & Young People of Defence Personnel web site.
Paul Watson is a third year student mental health nurse.