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New Insights on Mental Health of Young Married Military Couples

New evidence from Abt Global, NYU published in Depression and Anxiety

A new study of military couples finds that the majority of military spouses are doing well, while a few findings suggest potential areas to help improve their quality life. In a joint peer-reviewed journal article, The Prevalence of Psychiatric Morbidity in United States Military Spouses: The Millennium Cohort Family Study, researchers at Abt Global, New York University, the Naval Health Research Center and the Center for Child and Family Health examined the mental health and well-being of military spouses. The article was published in Depression and Anxiety.   

While the psychological wellbeing of service members has long been the focus of substantive research, their spouses have received comparatively little attention. Approximately half of U.S. service members are married and—with more than 2.6 million having deployed to the Middle East—that leaves 1.1 million people who have contended with the stress of knowing their spouses are potentially in harm’s way.

In our study, we assessed the prevalence of—and contributors to—eight mental health conditions:  depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic, alcohol misuse, insomnia, somatization symptoms (the conversion of psychological stress into physical symptoms), and binge eating. The study used baseline data from the Millennium Cohort Family Study, a 21-year longitudinal survey following almost 10,000 military-affiliated married couples representing all U.S. service branches and active duty, Reserve, and National Guard components, including dual military couples. Couples were surveyed between 2011 and 2013, a period of intense military operational activity associated with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Most couples in the study were relatively young, and were early in their military career, ranging from two- to five-years of military service.

Highlights include:

  • Deployment with combat was associated with higher rates of anxiety, insomnia and somatization symptoms even after controlling for socio-demographics.
  • Most commonly endorsed conditions were moderate-to-severe somatization symptoms and moderate-to-severe insomnia.

“The good news is, the majority of military spouses are not reporting clinically significant psychiatric difficulties, despite the many unique stressors placed on their families,” says Abt Sr. Associate/Scientist Nida Corry, Ph.D. “However, our findings show that a sizeable minority of military spouses may benefit from formal mental health prevention and intervention services to improve not only their health but also the well-being of their families.”

The research team will explore additional factors that may place some military spouses at higher risk for negative outcomes than others. Future analyses will examine risk and protective factors in spouses, and will explore how service member and deployment characteristics influence spousal mental health outcomes.

Read more about the article.

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