Family Support Class Reduces Symptoms of Anxiety, Depression: Report

Kelly Wallace, Families OverComing Under Stress resiliency trainer, reads a book during FOCUS story time for preschoolers Aug. 20, 2014, at the Forest City Community Center, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)
Kelly Wallace, Families OverComing Under Stress resiliency trainer, reads a book during FOCUS story time for preschoolers Aug. 20, 2014, at the Forest City Community Center, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Troops and family members who participated in a military-run emotional support and family communication class had their anxiety and depression symptoms halved six months after leaving the program, according to a new report from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Researchers examined military family members at 15 bases with high troop deployments who used the so-called Families Overcoming Under Stress, or FOCUS, program. About 3,500 adults and 3,810 children were examined in the report, which looked at data gathered between 2008 and 2013.

Of the family members examined, about 23 percent of adults were at risk for depression and anxiety symptoms when they started the program while 30 percent of children had behavior problems identified by their parents, the report states. At the six-month mark, however, those rates had dropped to 11 and 14 percent, respectively.

The eight-week program teaches communication skills to participants using a set curriculum developed by UCLA in 2008. Initially offered at a handful of Marine Corps and Navy installations, it's now used at 20 bases worldwide.

The effort is beneficial because it combines communication help with individualized support, according to Patricia Lester, who helped develop the program and co-authored the report.

"It's really reaching into the community, meeting people where they live, where they go to school," she said in an interview with Military.com. "It's not one-size-fits-all. It's where your family is at, what are your needs and really integrating that in a way that's useful to families."  

Although researchers stopped their check-ins with families after six months, Lester said she expects that emotional health improvements likely leveled off over time, especially if the families continued to experience new stress and did not receive additional training or reminders about what they had been taught.

Still, she said, the report offers concrete, statistical evidence shows that the program and other, similar interventions are successful.

"Everybody always says ‘These things sound nice, but where's the data?'" Lester said. "I think this helps make the case – yeah, people are using the program, they stayed in the program, they improved using it."

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @amybushatz.

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