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Updated : August 1, 2022 4 mins read

Stress in the military for Armed Forces young people

Updated : August 1, 2022 4 mins read

Article Stress

We know some important things about stress. The link between stress and the impact on our physical health can often be a vicious cycle, however we all understand and experience stress differently. For Armed Forces young people there are additional complexities to their way of life which can mean they experience unique stress triggers not usually present in civilian life.

Armed Forces young people can face extended periods of parental/guardian absence due to deployment or training . Recently, Covid-19 has increased the uncertainty that is sometimes present around deployment dates, such as delayed or accelerated moves and additional time away required to meet quarantine requirements. Young people tell us about how difficult it is not to know what’s happening or to be given sudden information which impacts their family dynamic.

One metaphor used by a young person was that “it’s like a swan where you don’t see what’s going on” . This is particularly apt as young people often feel pressure to put a brave face on things for fear of upsetting their family members or concern about not being understood/heard.

Some young people may appear to be coping well by being productive and being involved in fulfilling activities and yet feel like they’re barely getting by. In fact, being busy might be a form of avoidance, so that they aren’t sitting still with their emotions. Our young people tell us they sometimes hide how stressed they are, using coping mechanisms like “I ask to go to the bathroom just to clear my head”.

Communication with the deployed parent/guardian(s) is also another huge source of worry and stress which is evident in some quotes from young people below.

“dad usually sends a daily message in the morning but sometimes he’s so busy he forgets or his signal isn’t good enough and it puts me in a worry all day, in a panic all day and I’ll be messaging mum asking if he’s texted… it’s our only method of communication”.

“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”.

“[we] can only facetime in a public place but then there’s hustling and bustling in the background so you can’t have proper conversations… you don’t have the privacy. Sometimes dad will go back to his room but then the signal is so bad”.

There are strict processes around communication during deployment and security is paramount. This means that for some families, information might be filtered, contact time could be very limited and/or conducted in public and in cases of threat, communications may stop completely (sometimes for several days). One young person told us how this had happened once to them and they kept it to themselves, trying to protect a young sibling from worry and finding it too hard to talk about in school. This fear dominated their thoughts for days and yet they felt they had no options for talking about it. These sources of additional stress trying to cope with communication problems create real barriers for young people, especially when trying to focus in school.

They tell us:

  • ‘the basic focus you just lose it. I feel really bad, did I call him, did I do that job that’s he’s not around to do’
  • ‘the teacher says I need to listen more but they don’t understand’
  • ‘wires in your mind just stop’
  • ‘it impacts everything’

This impact can be compounded when military matters are in the media, as public fear and tensions can rise and young people may face more questions from friends or try not to mention they’re in a military family to avoid talking about it.

Positive mental health aspects of forces life

Positive mental health aspects of forces life

Whilst it is clear that being in a military family can cause stress, many young people have positive experiences.

Coping with deployment

One of the biggest challenges we can face as an Armed Forces young person is when our serving parent is deployed.

Understanding Forces Life

If you’d like to explore more young person experiences, why not look at the Understanding Forces Life section?

Read more

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.