Women whose partners are away on military deployment are at greater risk of developing depression during pregnancy and just after giving birth, according to a new U.K. study published in the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

The findings show that lone parenting can further exacerbate these depressive symptoms, but strong social support can act as a buffer.

Previous research has shown that poor mental health during the perinatal period (around the time of childbirth) is linked to a number of adverse outcomes for the mother and family. The unique circumstances surrounding military partners’ living situations may leave them particularly vulnerable to developing perinatal mental health problems.

For the study, researchers from the Veterans and Families Institute for Military Social Research (VFI) at Anglia Ruskin University in England reviewed 13 U.S. studies which looked at the perinatal mental health or well-being of military spouses.

They found that pregnant military wives report more depressive symptoms at all stages of their pregnancy and all stages of their partner’s deployment cycle. In particular, deployment of the military spouse is linked to social isolation and increased anxiety and stress for the pregnant partner at home, leading to a higher risk of perinatal depression.

This depression can be worsened by the stress of lone parenting for the duration of the deployment and coping with the subsequent change in day-to-day family life and parenting roles following the return of the serving partner.

“Women who have a serving partner in the military not only have to deal with pregnancy and the additional demands this places on their mental health, but they may also be very worried about the welfare of their partner. In addition they are lacking that essential support while their spouse is away,” said lead author Dr. Lauren Godier-McBard, research fellow at Anglia Ruskin’s VFI.

“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 specialized support for military spouses.”

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

Source: Anglia Ruskin University