INGLEWOOD, Calif.--()--Active duty and reserve military families and children who live in the South Bay/Harbor region of Los Angeles County—a mostly civilian community unequipped to recognize their presence or needs—have significant mental health challenges.
“These citizen soldiers do not typically identify as military”
Unlike their counterparts who live on military bases with built-in networks of support, South Bay/Harbor military families have limited resources to help them cope with stressors related to military deployment and combat-related mental health problems. In public schools there is a lack of access to counselors who understand and can effectively treat the trauma and stress underlying military children’s emotional or behavioral difficulties.
To combat ineffective mental health care, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services $1.6 million over four years to train therapists and teachers throughout the region in evidence-based treatment models that bolster the coping skills of military families. The funding will also provide support and resiliency training to more than 1,300 military families coping with traumatic events related to parents’ deployment and re-integration into civilian life.
“This grant really focuses on the trauma experienced by children of military families,” says Rebecca Gaba, Didi Hirsch’s vice president of clinical operations. “It allows us to be a member agency of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network of child trauma experts and service providers who are working on ways to improve mental health services for children exposed to trauma, including children in military families.”
Known as Military Families Achieving Recovery, the project provides funding for widespread training in two types of trauma therapy: FOCUS Family Resiliency Training™ and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). FOCUS, which was developed at the University of California at Los Angeles and Harvard School of Medicine, centers on helping families develop communication skills that support family resiliency, enhance family cohesion and increase social support. TF-CBT is an evidence-based family psychotherapy approach that incorporates trauma-sensitive interventions with cognitive behavioral principles.
Didi Hirsch will provide the training in collaboration with several agencies and networks that have expertise in trauma, including the UCLA/National Child Traumatic Stress Network, the University of Southern California School of Social Work, and U.S. Vets Inglewood.
“Military families go through a lot of different adjustments--the preparation for deployment, the economic hardship and loss we experience when the service member is deployed, the moving to different bases, posts, states and countries and the changes when the returned service member comes home,” says Erica Trejo, Didi Hirsch’s project coordinator for Military Families Achieving Recovery. “As a military wife, when I go to clinicians who have no clue about military culture and perspective, they won’t understand what I’m going through and can’t give me the help I need.”
Studies show that families with members in the National Guard or Reserves—which make up the majority of military families in the South Bay region of Los Angeles—have fewer family supports, resulting in greater risks to their mental well-being than their active duty counterparts.
“These citizen soldiers do not typically identify as military,” says Deborah J. Hayes, Psy.D, who serves as consultant to the program. “They are people who deliver mail, who serve as teachers, dentists or doctors, but also are significant contributors to our war effort. Some may have problems reintegrating with their job, family and community. It’s important to understand how those stressors could impact their families.”
Mental health challenges for military children are significant. One study found that children with at least one parent in active duty for at least 11 months between 2003 and 2006 suffered a higher incidence of mental health diagnoses, including acute stress, adjustment issues, pediatric behavioral disorders and depression. While there is little specific data for the South Bay region, the area’s military children have suffered enormous stress as a result of their parents’ multiple and lengthy deployments over the past six years.
Children make up nearly half of the South Bay area’s reported cases of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The area also has the lowest ratio of intact families to single-parent households in the county—1.5 percent compared to a county average of 2.2 percent—while its local high schools have a suspension rate that is more than twice as high as the county average.
“This grant is a great opportunity to break down the stigma barriers related to mental health,” Hayes says. “It allows us to focus on resiliency and making sure military families and children in need have greater access to supportive resources.”
About Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services
With 70 years of experience, Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services transforms lives by providing quality mental health care and substance abuse services in communities where stigma or poverty limit access. From 11 locations and 65 schools throughout Los Angeles and Orange Counties, Didi Hirsch helps more than 70,000 children and adults each year, offering services that range from community education to outpatient care to residential treatment. Its Suicide Prevention Center was the first in the nation. Learn more at http://www.didihirsch.org/.