Military Service Absences and Family Members’ Mental Health: A Timeline Followback Assessmentedit
Although military service, and particularly absence due to deployment, has been linked to risk for depression and anxiety among some spouses and children of active duty service members, there is limited research to explain the heterogeneity in family members’ reactions to military service stressors. The current investigation introduces the Timeline Followback Military Family Interview (TFMFI) as a clinically useful strategy to collect detailed time-linked information about the service member’s absences. Two dimensions of parent absence-the extent to which absences coincide with important family events and cumulative time absent-were tested as potential risks to family members’ mental health. Data from 70 mother-adolescent pairs revealed that the number of important family events missed by the service member was linked to elevated youth symptoms of depression, even when accounting for the number of deployments and cumulative duration of the service member’s absence. However, youth who reported more frequent contact with the service member during absences were buffered from the effects of extensive absence. Mothers’ symptoms were associated with the cumulative duration of the service members’ time away, but not with family events missed by the service member. These results identify circumstances that increase the risk for mental health symptoms associated with military family life. The TFMFI provides an interview-based strategy for clinicians wishing to understand military family members’ lived experience during periods of service-member absence.