‘They’ve been through a lot’: Focus on military teen mental health could help with troop retention

According to new data from the National Military Family Association, some teenagers in military families need more help dealing with mental health concerns.


Advocates sat down with us to talk about the results of the 2023 Military Teen Experience Survey for the first time. The survey was done with Bloom, an organization for military teens created by military teens.

When someone joins the military, it’s the whole family that serves. National Military Family Association CEO Besa Pinchotti explained that includes military kids.

“Some of them were born into the military and lived with their family through every stage of that military life and they’ve been through a lot,” she described.

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They didn’t choose the things unique to military life -- the constant goodbyes to deploying parents, consistent moves or school changes.

“You’re starting from scratch over and over and over again,” Pinchotti said.

Now data shows that’s having an impact.

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This year’s survey followed up on a statistic these advocates found scary. In 2022, 37% of the teens said they’d considered harming themselves or others. So this year, NMFA asked if these teens are getting the help they need.

This new survey found 13% felt they needed care but did not receive it.

“The issues have to do with those who are seeking help or know that they need help and aren’t getting it,” Pinchotti explained. “Some of the reasons for that are that they don’t believe that their parents have the means or the ability to get them that help or that they didn’t ask because they didn’t think that their parents would help them.”

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Now, the group is working with the Defense Health Agency to advocate for fixes.

“We’ve been working with DHA to expand telehealth and make sure that families are able to get those appointments because we know of those military teens who didn’t get the mental health support that they needed, 20% of them said it was because they weren’t able to get an appointment,” Pinchotti said.

This isn’t only about the families who serve -- it could impact our national security and our nation’s military, both now and in the future.

“It all also trickles to the service member, who isn’t able to focus on the job at hand when they’re worried about their family not getting the care that they need,” Pinchotti added. “Then it affects their ability to stay in the military. There’s a lot of decisions being made at the kitchen tables all around America to not continue to serve or to not sign up at all.”

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