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Adolescent mental health in military families: Evidence from the Canadian Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study

APA Citation:

Kinley, J., Feizi, S., & Elgar, F. J. (2023). Adolescent mental health in military families: Evidence from the Canadian Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 114(4), 651-658. https://doi.org/10.17269/s41997-023-00758-5

Abstract Created by REACH:

This study examined whether having a parent in the Canadian Armed Forces contributed to greater rates of mental health symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety) and physical health symptoms (e.g., headache, stomachache) among 18,886 Canadian adolescents (9.7% [n = 1,815] were from military families). The study considered social support from friends, family, peers, classmates, and teachers as a potential buffer against the effects of military affiliation on adolescent rates of mental and physical health symptoms. Overall, adolescents in military families had higher rates of mental health symptoms than those in civilian families. Peer support mitigated this risk.


Mental health
Physical health

Branch of Service:

International Military

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Child of a service member or veteran


School age (6 - 12 yrs)
Adolescence (13 - 17 yrs)


Cross sectional study
Quantitative Study


Kinley, John, Feizi, Samira, Elgar, Frank J.


Objectives To investigate the association between physical and mental health symptoms in adolescents and having a parent in the Canadian Armed Forces and the moderation of these associations by various sources of social support. Methods We used data on a nationally representative sample of 18,886 adolescents (11–15 years) in the 2017/18 Canadian Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study (HBSC). Survey assessments included multi-item scales of mental and physical health symptoms and sources of social support (peers, families, classmates, and teachers). Poisson regression was used to estimate incidence rate ratios (IRR) of weekly symptoms in military versus non-military youths. Moderation of differences between these groups were tested using interactions of variables representing support and military families. Results Military youth, compared to non-military youth, reported more mental health symptoms (IRR = 1.20; 95% CI 1.08, 1.33) but only marginally more physical symptoms (IRR = 1.15; 95% CI 1.00, 1.33) in the previous week. These associations were stronger in youths who reported lower levels of peer support (IRR = 0.99; 95% CI 0.98, 1.00 [mental health symptoms]; IRR = 0.98; 95% CI 0.97, 1.00 [physical health symptoms]). Support from families, classmates and teachers did not moderate differences in mental or physical symptoms. Conclusion Canadian adolescents in military families have increased risk for experiencing poor mental health. Peer support may play a protective role, however further research is needed to guide clinical interventions for this unique population.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


adolescents, mental health, military health, peer support, youth

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  August 2023

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