CRIME: The very heavy mental health toll on children with a parent in a high-risk occupation

Three children of a first responder mourning the loss of their father stand
in front of the memorial wall in Nesconset, Long Island. September, 2011

It's something most of us probably never think of.  We're simply grateful to the men and women who conduct manhunts or fight fires, risking their lives to protect us.

But what about the children of these people?  What effect does having a parent away from home, if only for a day, searching for a potentially armed and violent criminal or terrorist?

A study published today describes the effect in short and sweet terms:  it takes a very heavy toll.

As an author, especially of crime fiction, understanding this price paid by the families of first responders is an important element in building a believable story arc and character profiles.  The effects on a family could be devastating, a parent involved in a high-risk occupation, the children traumatized and acting out or withdrawing, putting even more stress on the parent, perhaps creating an ongoing cycle of problems.  It appears it doesn't matter if the parent or family member is killed or injured.  It's the fact that they are out there risking their lives that creates the family trauma.

Here's the story:

Children with relatives who were called upon to participate in the interagency manhunt following the Boston Marathon attack carried a particularly heavy mental health burden, according to a Depression and Anxiety study that included surveys of Boston-area parents and other caretakers.
Researchers found that the proportion of youth with likely PTSD was 5.7 times higher among youth with relatives in the manhunt than among youth without. Children with relatives in the manhunt also experienced more emotional symptoms and hyperactivity or inattention.

"Beyond informing our specific understanding of kids' mental health after the Boston Marathon bombing, this work also speaks more broadly to the very heavy mental health toll that can be endured by having a parent employed in a high-risk occupation characterized by day-to-day confrontations with physical danger and extreme stress," said lead author Dr. Jonathan Comer. "When these kids are suffering, their needs may be difficult to detect, but we must find ways to get them the help that they need."

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Story Source:  Materials provided by Wiley. Jonathan S. Comer, Caroline E. Kerns, R. Meredith Elkins, Aubrey L. Edson, Tommy Chou, Annie Dantowitz, Elizabeth Miguel, Bonnie Brown, Stefany Coxe, Jennifer Greif Green. ADJUSTMENT AMONG CHILDREN WITH RELATIVES WHO PARTICIPATED IN THE MANHUNT FOLLOWING THE BOSTON MARATHON ATTACK. Depression and Anxiety, 2014


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