Moving kids from one town to another may affect their mental health, study finds

Children’s mental health
Military-family kids who relocate are more likely to get mental health care

THE QUESTION When families relocate from one city or town to another, does the move affect the children’s mental well-being?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 548,336 children, 6 to 17 years old, who had one parent in the U.S. military. At some point during 2008, 25 percent of them moved to a new town or city. In the following year, the children who had moved were more likely to be treated for a mental health issue than were those who had not moved. Overall, younger children and teenagers were affected at a similar rate, but teens were far more likely to have severe problems, corresponding to considerably higher rates of emergency room treatment and psychiatric hospitalization. Adjustment disorders, conduct disorders, drug problems, self-injurious behavior and suicide attempts were more likely among youths who had moved. However, the occurrence of psychotic, mood and anxiety disorders was comparable among youths who did and did not move.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Children who make a geographical move with their families. Though the relocation rate has been slowing since the 1970s, the United States remains one of the world’s most mobile societies, with nearly a fourth of its residents changing home towns in the past five years, according to a 2013 Gallup poll.

CAVEATS The study authors suggested that the effect of a move might be greater on nonmilitary children, because the “stable parental employment, consistent health care and a sense of community that is not bounded by geography” that comes with being part of a military family may give those children some protection against mental health problems. It’s possible that mental health visits were more common among those who moved because moving prompted increased awareness by parents.

FIND THIS STUDY March 18 online issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

LEARN MORE ABOUT child and adolescent mental health at www.nimh.nih.gov/health and www.apa.org (search for “children’s mental health”).

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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