Study details stresses on military wives

Military wives often try not to complain, but a large-scale study published today suggests that they have a right to, citing elevated rates of depression, sleep disorders, anxiety and other mental-health problems among women whose husbands were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The study looked at electronic medical data for more than 250,000 of the nearly 300,000 women whose active-duty husbands were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan from 2003 to 2006. It appears in the New England Journal of Medicine and was Alyssa J. Mansfield's doctoral dissertation at UNC-Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health.

"The results that we found won't come as a surprise to Army leaders," said Mansfield, who is now a researcher at RTI International. "It's probably something they have assumed. But it's an opportunity to kind of quantify what's going on."

The study found that 36.6 percent of women whose husbands had deployed had at least one mental-health diagnosis, compared with 30.5 percent of women whose husbands had not deployed.

The military has long been aware that the stress of combat deployment can have lasting effects on troops, and has developed programs to help before, during and after they are sent to war. With the majority of its service members married, the military has extended the reach of its programs in recent years to spouses and children, reasoning that a healthier family makes a stronger soldier.

"Besides fear for the safety of their loved ones, spouses of deployed personnel often face challenges of maintaining a household, coping as a single parent and experiencing marital strain due to a deployment-induced separation of an uncertain duration," the study says.

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