Military families experience a number of life stresses, from frequent geographic moves, recurring periods of separation, parental absence to the potential of the military member being assigned into a hostile environment.
Candice Alfano is an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Houston. She is one of the investigators for a three year, $2.7 million dollar grant funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.
“The whole basis for the study comes from previous research that has shown a pretty consistent link between parental deployment and increase in child anxiety and depression. However, one of the limitations of those studies is that these have been one time assessments based on very broad measures of symptoms. They come from the perspective of only the parent or only the child, and they don’t include biological measures of stress.”
Alfano says they’ll conduct structured clinical interviews with parents and children.
“We’re sending children home with a wrist watch, which is actually called an actigraph. And it’s really a very expensive wrist watch in that, what it really does is measure sleep and wake periods. And sleep tends to be the first place that stress rears its ugly head, so we’re interested not only in subjective report of sleep, but actually seeing what’s happening at night.”
Children will also be asked to passively drool into a cup to measure their salivary cortisol levels, a hormone linked to stress.
“We’re actually recruiting four different types of families for this study: Military families with an active duty service member who is currently not deployed, military families where the parent-service member who is deployed, and then civilian families, both intact to parent families, and families who’ve experienced divorce or separation within the last 12 months.”
Bryon Escobedo, a retired Marine who now helps returning servicemembers, says the new study being conducted will benefit those who came back from deployment with problems.
“The first thing that suffers is your sleep. When you have traumatic stress months on end, or even years with lack of sleep just changes your very personality and how you function, and it limits you in being effective in your daily life. So this study, if it can really provide help and solutions to these sleep problems which affect every facet of the veteran’s life, then they better the life of the veteran period.”
Information on participating in the study can be found at UH Military Families.