VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
While servicemembers face challenges on the battlefield, continued deployments also can be demanding for families at home. Children waiting for a parent to come back home are often vulnerable to stress, depression and anxiety.
Homecoming is a joyous time for the entire family. But when a parent returns, children are also susceptible to feelings of depression, especially if the mom or dad exhibits symptoms of combat stress or post-traumatic stress disorder. A child whose parent has PTSD will often mimic the symptoms, experts say.
Think your child is depressed?
Depression is more than just feeling sad. Symptoms can be behavioral changes such as: disinterest in friends or hobbies once enjoyed; difficulty concentrating; irritable moods the majority of the day, every day; and feeling worthless, helpless or guilty.
Children may exhibit physical symptoms, like stomachaches or headaches; have difficulty sleeping or sleep too much; and may have significant weight loss or gain.
What to do first
If your child displays any of the symptoms mentioned above for at least two weeks, contact your child's doctor or primary care manager for an appointment. The PCM can help you decide if you should pursue behavioral health care.
If the PCM recommends additional care, know that your TRICARE benefits offer the first eight visits with a behavioral health provider without an authorization. TriWest has offered training to many of its civilian providers to help them understand the unique challenges that military families and children are experiencing.
For assistance finding a TRICARE behavioral health provider and making an appointment, call TriWest's Provider Locator and Appointment Assistance Services at 1-866-651-4970 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
For more information about your TRICARE behavioral health benefits, visit www.tricare.mil/mybenefit
Online resources to help
There are several free, online resources for children of all ages to combat depression. These include:
Behavioral Health portal on www.TriWest.com: This portal offers a Depression Screening Quiz, TRICARE provider locator, TRICARE benefits information and treatment options.
DeploymentKids.com: This site offers a variety of activities for children such as word games, jokes, online journals, fun quizzes and a "Where in the World" map to show where the parent is.
MilitaryOneSource.com: Find articles, booklets, audio CDs and other interactive tools to help you learn how to talk to your child about deployment.
Videos and DVD programs
A variety of multi-media programs are also available for children of different age ranges:
Help From Home
: Syndicated columnist, radio host and author, Jacey Eckhart chats with military moms about raising children while their husbands were deployed. Also, teens around the U.S. discuss the challenges and rewards of being a military teen. This video series is available as streaming video or a two-DVD set on the Behavioral Health portal on www.TriWest.com
Talk, Listen, Connect: Helping Families Cope With Military Deployment
: Features the Sesame Street character Elmo dealing with the prolonged absence of his father. It is suitable for ages 3 to 5, and is available from Sesame Street Workshop at http://www.sesameworkshop.org/tlc
Talk, Listen, Connect: Deployment, Homecoming, Changes
: Another Sesame Street video that aims to aid children in understanding and unbundling the tangle of complex emotions many feel in the midst of a mother's or father's tours of duty away from home, and even broaches the difficult subject of dealing with a parent's debilitating war injury.
Mr. Poe and Friends Discuss Family Reunion After Deployment: Uses cartoon characters to address deployment issues affecting children ages 6 to 11. It is available at www.cs.amedd.army.mil/youth.aspx
Military Youth Coping With Separation: When Family Members Deploy: A half-hour video featuring teenagers discussing their feelings and how they cope with issues that arise when a parent is deployed. It is available at www.aap.org/sections/uniformedservices/deployment/videos.html
Communicate with your children. Actively listen to their thoughts, fears and concerns. Answer their questions as honestly as you can. Encourage your children to express their feelings through artwork, poems and stories. Watch one of the videos listed above and use the accompanying parent discussion guide to stimulate conversation. Most importantly, be a role model by showing that caring for your mental health is as important as caring for your physical health.