NYU Silver Assistant Professor Kathrine Sullivan has received a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) for “Military Parents’ Stress Exposure Associated with Mental and Behavioral Health Among their Young Children” (1R03HD105837).
The two-year study will use structural equation modeling to analyze secondary data from the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Millennium Cohort Family Study, a longitudinal survey of 9,872 married military couples, and linked archival DoD datasets. It will employ a novel, family-level stress process lens to consider various mechanisms through which early, chronic, and recent non-military stressors may combine with military stressors to influence the mental health of military parents and more completely explain risk for adverse mental and behavioral health outcomes among young military-connected children.
Dr. Sullivan has done extensive research on the wellbeing of military family systems, the impact of war-related stressors, and the mental health of military parents on outcomes for military-connected youth. “Although many military families cope successfully with wartime military service,” she explained, “mounting empirical evidence suggests that a sizable subset of military-connected children may experience negative consequences, including mental health problems, substance use, and suicidality. Prior research has demonstrated an association between parental deployment and these outcomes, but military-specific stressors alone do not adequately explain the risk for poor adjustment among nearly two million military-connected youth.”
The new study seeks to fill that knowledge gap by looking at the lifetime stress burden of military parents, including both stressors that are associated with military service, like deployment, and stressors that are unrelated, like adverse childhood experiences. Said Dr. Sullivan, “We will consider the impact of these stressors on parents’ mental health and ultimately on the mental health of their children. By understanding the intergenerational transmission of stress and trauma, we can ultimately work toward interrupting these processes and preventing adverse outcomes in military-connected youth.”
The new study is informed in part by Dr. Sullivan’s previous project, “Preventing Adverse Health Outcomes Among Military Families: The Role of Protective Factors,” which was funded by a grant from the NYU Silver Dean’s Upstream Research Seed Fund. “In particular,” she said, “we learned from that project about the importance of considering the cumulative impact of stressors that military families face, and specifically the impact of stressors that are unrelated to their military service, which are often overlooked in this population.”