Moving Tough on Adolescents' Mental Health, Study Finds
To see whether these kids nonetheless show signs of difficulty with moving, the researchers looked at medical records for 6- to 17-year-old children of active duty members from the Military Health System Medical Data Repository between October 1, 2006, and September 30, 2009.
Altogether, the records for 548,336 children were included in the analysis, and nearly 180,000 - about 25 percent - had moved to a new city or town at least once during the past year.
Researchers divided the children into two groups by age: 6 to 11 years old and 12 to 17. They looked at whether each child had had at least one healthcare visit - outpatient, emergency room or hospitalization - with a mental health diagnosis during fiscal year 2009.
The study team also collected additional data from the records about the children and parents, including psychiatric history, service branch, military rank, gender, race and age.
Finally, they calculated the odds of a child having a visit for mental health diagnoses including anxiety, self-injury, adjustment, developmental, personality and mood disorders.
The study found that compared to peers who had not moved, kids between the ages of 12 and 17 who had moved over the past year had 20 percent higher odds of visiting the emergency room for a psychiatric issue, along with 4 percent higher odds of an office visit and 19 percent greater odds of a psychiatric hospitalization. Children between the ages of six and 11 had about 3 percent higher odds of having an office visit for mental health reasons.
"It shouldn't come as a surprise to us that adolescents in particular - even more than younger people - have a difficult time making adjustments," said Christopher Bellonci, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.
"The job of adolescents is to find a peer group and an identity outside of the home, and that is harder when your peer group and school are disrupted by a move when they should provide support and strength," he told Reuters Health.
For families with an upcoming move, preparing kids and teens is key, said Bellonci, who was not involved in the study.
"Change is stressful, and parents should talk with their kids about the transition coming up," Bellonci said.
If possible, parents should help kids brainstorm ways to make the new space -such as their bedroom - their own. Getting a chance to meet future teachers and peers can also help smooth the transition to a new city. For parents and kids alike, it's all about fostering a new support system of friends and peers.
Image: Moving truck, via Shutterstock