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UNB researcher finds teens from military families face unique stressors during deployments

Author: Communications

Posted on Mar 24, 2011

Category: UNB Fredericton

The findings of the first-ever Canadian study of adolescents in military families were released today in Oromocto, N.B., by a team led by University of New Brunswick researcher Deborah Harrison. The study found that students from Oromocto High School who recently had a parent deployed to Afghanistan worried that the parent would either not return home or would return home “different.”  They felt a sense of responsibility for the emotional well being of the parent and younger siblings remaining at home, and experienced isolation in trying to cope with their problems if the parent remaining at home was stressed or preoccupied by the deployment. Adolescent girls in particular assumed a large share of the family’s emotional burden during long deployments. Dr. Harrison, principal investigator and sociologist, says that once families are reunited after deployment, the psychological stressors continue if the returning parent has developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “We found that family life was almost always negatively affected by an injured parent’s symptoms of anger and depression,” said Dr. Harrison.  “Some adolescents reported needing to go through a process of grieving the loss of their family as it had been before the deployment.  They also reported feeling very isolated--along with their families--by the stigma against non-physical injuries that exists in rank-and-file army culture.” The above interview findings were part of a larger study on the mental health and well being of adolescents in Canadian Forces families. What the researchers didn’t expect to find, in their 2008 survey of all the students at Oromocto High School, was that there is virtually no difference between the mental health of adolescents from Canadian Forces families and that of their civilian peers in the same community.  Also, Canadian Forces adolescents have a more positive attitude towards school than their civilian peers. Representatives of the research team and its partner in the project, New Brunswick School District 17, are discussing these and other findings at a two-day symposium in Oromocto this week, which will conclude with recommendations aimed at enhancing the support provided during deployments by the District’s schools. David McTimoney, superintendent of School District 17, says Oromocto High School already has some helpful programs in place and hopes that recommendations from this week’s symposium will lead to even better support services for teens in Canadian Forces families. "I am proud of the strategies that our district student services team has already developed, in an effort to respond to the needs of our students who are touched by the challenges of deployment in the Canadian Forces,” said Mr. McTimoney.  “Participating in this research project and symposium is allowing us to have a second look at our work and determine where improvements can be made." This research initiative was undertaken by researchers at UNB, the University of Alberta, Ryerson University, and York University, in partnership with NB School District 17; and was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Oromocto (population 9,000) was the town chosen for the location of this study because it is developed around Canadian Forces Base Gagetown; one of the largest military training bases in the Commonwealth. For more information, please contact: Natasha Ashfield, Communications and Marketing University of New Brunswick 458-7969, Natasha.ashfield@unb.ca