Armed forces wives at greater risk of perinatal depression

Author: Louise Prime

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Pregnant women whose partners are away on military deployment are at increased risk of perinatal psychological illness and might need specialised support, new research has shown. The authors of the study*, published online in the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, called for further UK research into these women’s needs so that effective strategies can be implemented.

The research team, from the Veterans and Families Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, said the unique circumstances in which military spouses/partners live might leave them particularly vulnerable to developing perinatal mental health (PMH) problems. And, they pointed out, poor mental health in the perinatal period is associated with a number of adverse outcomes, not just for the woman but also for the wider family.

They undertook a literature review of papers on PMH in military spouses and partners. After searching numerous databases they found 13 relevant papers that fulfilled the inclusion criteria, all of them from the US.

The researchers said their analysis identified a strong focus on spousal deployment as a risk factor for depressive symptoms and psychological stress during the perinatal period. Pregnant military spouses reported more depressive symptoms, at all stages of their pregnancy and all stages of their partner’s deployment cycle. The review also identified other risk factors, including a lack of social/emotional support, and increased family-related stressors.

The study authors reported that interventions for pregnant military spouses included those that helped the women develop internal coping strategies and external social support. They commented: “The evidence we found indicates that social support is an important protective factor for military spouses during the perinatal period. This may be particularly important for reducing anxiety during the deployment of their serving partner. There may be benefits to specialised support for military spouses.”

They added: “While this review focused on US studies, the cultural and situational similarities between the two nations and their militaries mean there may be lessons the UK can take from this analysis. However, there remains a paucity of UK research on this subject.”

They called for further UK research, to give military and healthcare providers an understanding of this population’s needs, so that effective planning and strategies can be commissioned and implemented.

*Godier-McBard LR, Ibbitson L, Hooks C, et al. Military spouses with deployed partners are at greater risk of poor perinatal mental health: a scoping review. Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps Published Online First: 05 January 2019. doi: 10.1136/jramc-2018-001069

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