PSI online coordinator Jessica Banas recently wrote a report for Postpartum Support International that she was kind enough to share with Postpartum Progress on the effects of spousal military deployment and postpartum depression among military wives.

Banas first took a look at a report entitled “Associations of Postpartum Depression with Spousal Military Deployment and Isolation” by Millegan et al. Out of the 410 women who completed the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS), 10.94% screened positively for postpartum depression while their husbands were not deployed, while 25.27% screened positively for postpartum depression while their husbands were deployed. "This information indicates that the risk factor for pregnant women with deployed spouses may be 2.3 times greater than the general population," wrote Banas. "The abstract reports that there is no statistical significance to the time of deployment, in that the risk is the same if the spouse returns for the birth and/or the postpartum visit."

Banas reached out to Public Affairs Officer Janice Ramseur at the Pentagon’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – American Forces Information Services to find out the approximate number of military wives who became pregnant in 2006 before their husbands were deployed – 357,000. She wrote: “After reading all of these statistics, one might consider that at 15-20% and at 2.3 times greater risk (35-46%), the number of military spouses expected to get postpartum depression might jump to numbers approximating 145,000. One might further hypothesize that approximately 51,000 (15% also at 2.3 times greater risk, or 35%) of those women could become so severely depressed that without treatment, they attempt suicide. Even if we keep the suicide statistic at 15%, the number remains significant at approximately 22,000 military women attempting suicide.”

Banas pointed out that there are several programs that support “military moms”. These include Operation Special Delivery, a nationwide program to provide free doula support to military moms during and after birth, even if the husband is home from deployment. Other programs, while not directly designed for the support of military mothers, offer a positive model for future services. The Air Force Suicide Prevention Program, for instance, has resulted in nearly a one-third reduction in the suicide rate since the program began in 1996. There is also a website for military personnel and their families called Military One Source which contains information on parenting, substance abuse, and childcare services, and has a 24/7 toll-free number that offers counseling.

Despite the availability of these programs, however, she feels more is needed. “We need to study this population more closely,” Banas concluded. “Not only to verify the risks, but to clarify and touch on other risk factors (i.e. moving multiple times, lack of consistent support from friends and families, higher rates of alcoholism among military personnel), as possible reasons for the higher numbers. We also need to find more military counseling and suicide prevention programs that will support both military personnel and their families.”