Long-term deployment affects mental health of army wives

Prolonged deployment in Iraq is associated with more mental health diagnoses in U.S. Army wives, a new study published free in the New England Journal of Medicine has found.

Current military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have involved frequent and long-term deployment of the military in these areas. Previous studies have shown considerable mental health problems in U.S. soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq and Afghanistan but little is known about how deployment affects mental health in military spouses.

Researchers from the U.S. and Canada analysed medical records from 2003 to 2006 of 250,626 wives of U.S. Army soldiers on active duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan to see if their husband’s deployment impacted on their mental health. They found that the deployment of spouses affected the wive’s mental health. Women with husbands serving for at least one month in the Iraq and Afghan wars received more diagnoses for depressive disorders, sleep disorders, anxiety and acute stress reactions or adjustment disorders compared to wives of soldiers who were not deployed. A third of all the women had at least one mental health diagnosis during the study period and of these, 5% more women with husbands on deployment were diagnosed with a mental health disorder than those whose husbands were not deployed.

This study suggests that mental health problems are not just restricted to the military personnel serving in the wars but also extends to their immediate families as well. This has important implications for public health and more effort is needed to extend mental health services for all military family members. The study did not include data from male spouses, the spouses of Reserve and National Guard personnel or children of military personnel and further analysis of these groups should be carried out in the future.

ResearchBlogging.orgMansfield, A., Kaufman, J., Marshall, S., Gaynes, B., Morrissey, J., & Engel, C. (2010). Deployment and the Use of Mental Health Services among U.S. Army Wives New England Journal of Medicine, 362 (2), 101-109 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0900177

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