Community support for military families: Lending a helping hand this 4th of July

Holidays throughout the year are times for families to gather together and celebrate. Independence Day in particular is one that emphasizes the importance of community and country. With all the parades, barbeques, and parties during the holiday weekend, it can be easy to overlook the many military families that may be struggling with the loss of loved ones or missing relatives assigned to active duty abroad.

The Fourth of July holiday is an opportunity to extend gratitude and show support to our troops and their families and acknowledge their important contribution to the wellbeing and safety of our country. A simple "thank you" to a service member or a military family helps show gratitude for their sacrifice. All people, not just those involved in the military, benefit from community support, and an emotional show of support is important to everyone's health and wellbeing.

Military Spouses

Spouses of service members face stressors and obstacles when their husband or wife is deployed. Being a single caretaker or worrying about a spouse's safety in Iraq or Afghanistan can take a physical and psychological toll. The study of positive psychology (PDF, 653KB) has revealed that meaning or purpose in one's life, including work and environment, is an important aspect of personal happiness. In a community setting, showing support for military families and thanking both the spouse and the service member for their commitment to their country can increase feelings of community support and help to buffer stressors.

Military Children

Children of military parents can face more emotional difficulties than nonmilitary children and the longer a parent is deployed the more pronounced those difficulties can become. Having a mother or father on active duty can be a difficult situation for children, especially when the parent is deployed. Research has shown that parental deployment is a predictor of emotional distress for children, including an increased risk for depression. A recent study found that high levels of participation in activities, strong family support, and a belief that America supports the war effort are factors that can create lower levels of stress in adolescents of military families. The emotional wellbeing of a military child relates not only to a strong family unit, but also to the understanding that their active duty parent is making a positive difference in the world and for our country.

There are many ways that we can support military families living in our own neighborhoods and communities. Cook a meal or agree to a play date or a babysitting evening. These sources of support can provide much needed relief for both military parents and their children. People who help others often develop a greater sense of purpose, which can increase their own level of happiness and positive outlook. Increasing the resilience of the individual can also increase the resilience of the community, and providing a helping hand to a neighbor or a friend also can help the person giving the hand.

It is common for military families to experience some levels of stress when a family member is deployed. Seeking out and taking advantage of resources and support offered through the military can be helpful. Nonprofit groups such as Give an Hour and SOFAR offer free mental health services to soldiers and their families. Talking to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, can provide additional support to help manage stress and worry. Psychologists are trained and licensed to work with individuals and families to deal with difficult problems and situations such as deployment and loss.

So, as we celebrate Independence Day this year with our families and friends, let's remember the troops and their families and extend our support, gratitude, and a helping hand.

Sources

Chandra, A., Sandraluz, L.C., Jaycox, L.H., Tanielian, T., Burns, R.M., Ruder, T. & Han, B. (2010). Children on the Homefront: The Experience of Children From Military Families. Pediatrics, 125, 16-15.

Lester, P., Peterson, K., Reeves, J., Knauss, L., Glover, D., Mogil, C., Duan, N., Saltzman, W., Pynoos, R., Wilt, K., Beardslee, W. (2010). The Long War and Parental Combat Deployment: Effects on Military Children and At-Home Spouses. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 49, 310-320.

Seligman, M.E.P., Steen, T.A., Nonsook, P., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validations of Interventions. American Psychologist, July-August, 410-421.
Turner, R.J. (1981). Social Support as a Contingency in Psychological Well-being. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 22, 57-367.

Wilson, J. (2000). Volunteering.  Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 215-240.

Wong, L. & Gerras, S. (2010). The Effects of Multiple Deployments on Army Adolescents. Strategic Studies Institute.