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Updated : August 1, 2022 3.5 mins read

Isolation and loneliness in an AF family

Updated : August 1, 2022 3.5 mins read

Article Loneliness

Sometimes, living in an Armed Forces family can make us feel lonely. It can be hard, moving alongside your family and starting new schools. You might have to make new friends every so often, or you might feel that you don’t have anyone to talk to about your experiences.

Feeling lonely can lead to us feeling sad and anxious, which could impact on our own mental wellbeing.

Young people have told us about times when they’re feeling lonely or low:

  • ‘sometimes I’ll ask to show dad a picture or something but he says he’s too busy and can I show him later, it makes you sad’
  • ‘some people had transition days and I hadn’t even been shown round the school, they just kinda threw me in’
  • ‘he hasn’t called or texted me even and that’s when I get to school and I feel really bad about that’

Young people also tell us their worries about their parents and guardians feeling lonely, whether they are the serving or staying at home;

  • ‘I get really sad thoughts about him eating alone’
  • ‘it’s sad how hard it is on the other parent’
  • ‘they’re basically a single parent’
  • ‘it’s been really hard on my mum and dad is really tired, I just wanna come home’

Forces Children Scotland often hears that “the family dynamic changes so much” and “it’s something we need to speak about more” which links to the emotional cycle of deployment. This can add different elements of loneliness as young people are worried about the interactions with other family members.

For example, one young person highlighted that her dad will “probably miss mum’s birthday and it’s not his fault but I get annoyed sometimes”. Another young person discussed the impact of weekending where “dad comes up every few weekends but he’s always really tired… and the Army charges for that because it’s like of his own will… it’s only really Sunday when he’s up for anything”.

Young people have highlighted that moving and starting again can bring opportunities and develop strong social skills. For example, one young person said “‘I act different every time I go to a new school” and went on to explain that “I don’t mean to brag but I think I’m likeable. Optimistic. Relaxed. Cool to be around”. While for some young people, any uncertainty around moving might feel isolating, others have a positive outlook when making new friends as “you probably won’t see me in two years but that’s okay”.

It’s important to understand how different experiences can be for young people and not to make assumptions about how young people are feeling. For example, living on base might cause feelings of loneliness or feeling apart sometimes, and drive a strong sense of community other times. Young people have highlighted how important respect for forces life is, as well as feeling part of a community which can buffer against isolation and loneliness.

Places which provide forces specific support and communities, such as Forces Children Scotland, help our young people as “before you found yourself explaining things. Now you’re just being yourself”. “It’s what makes us in the club” and it helps “stop the loneliness”. Young people have highlighted the appeal of the Your Mind Matters project due to the “uniqueness” and the fact it covers both the Armed Forces specific content as well as providing “somewhere to speak” about mental health. Our core group of young people tell us “both these things drew me in”.

Further Reading

Common myths about being involved in military families

Young people from forces families are often swept into broader categories of support and can struggle with the lack of resonance and respect for their context and their way of life.

Our Projects

Your Mind Matters

We’re helping young people from serving and veteran families to better understand and improve mental health and wellbeing.

Find out more about YMM

Get Help now

If you are concerned about your mental health, or if you have found yourself feeling concerned about someone else, you can:

Call 111 – NHS 24

Call 116 123 – The Samaritans

Call 0800 83 85 87 – Breathing Space

Text: ‘YM’ to 85258 – Young Minds crisis chat

If you think you are in danger of hurting yourself or other people, you should call 999 or present to your local A&E department.