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Mental health matters: an innovative way to keep a parted family close

By on 15th May 2019

Separation anxiety is a mental health issue that affects both children and adults when they are separated from, or are afraid of being separated from a particular person or people – or even a pet. It causes extreme anxiety which may also manifest as physical symptoms, including nausea, headaches or a sore throat.

With the nature of military service, it is inevitable that families are often parted for varying lengths of time, thus causing a high incidence rate of separation anxiety.

A charity based in Kingston has been encouraging the use of reading to connect a particular group of families who are going through difficult times, or just change. Reading Force was started by Forces wife – and Soldiering On Award Finalist, Dr Alison Baverstock. Alison has developed a way for families to stay in touch while one parent is serving away from home, thus reducing potential separation anxiety.

An author, publisher and academic, Alison noticed that her own four children had better conversations with her husband when he was away on operations if they were reading the same books. It gave them all a common ground for conversation to focus on away from the military work, and improved everybody’s emotional wellbeing. It was while stationed in Aldershot in 2011 that she decided to share this benefit with other families, and she launched a pilot of Reading Force, which proved hugely successful.

The tri-service charity caters for the UK’s estimated 130,000+ Forces children, plus those on overseas bases and the children of Veterans, Cadets and Reserves. It caters for children aged 0-18 years and, using a shared love of reading, they boost literacy confidence, deal with separation anxiety and strengthen family bonds through communication.

For some of these families it is the first time Daddy has read to his children.

Alison told us, “It’s widely established that reading for pleasure is good for us – readers tend to be more articulate, empathetic, professionally successful, happy – the list goes on and on. There is also strong evidence that it’s good for our mental health, not least because reading about the situation of others, and how they manage issues that are common to many people, can help us feel understood.”

Reading Force encourages families to choose a book to share, to read it together and to pool their thoughts in one of their special scrapbooks. The scheme leaves participants feeling connected, in each other’s minds for longer than just a phone call, and can promote positive mental health. It’s free to anyone with a Forces connection (materials include free books, scrapbooks and a certificate of participation). To register please visit www.readingforce.org.uk.

About Renée Wallen

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