Women with spouses on military deployment during their pregnancies face a nearly threefold higher risk for postpartum depression in initial screening tests, researchers reported this week.
The findings mean that military wives should be informed of the risk and aggressively screened for depression during their postpartum medical exams, said lead author Dr. Jeffrey Millegan of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.
Postpartum depression is marked by feelings of guilt or hopelessness, and in some cases, suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Other symptoms include feelings of inadequacy about motherhood and nagging worries about the infant's safety.
Postpartum depression is believed to affect 10% to 15% of new mothers and can occur up to three months after childbirth. Antidepressants or psychotherapy are effective treatments.
The study, presented Monday at a American Psychiatric Assn. meeting in San Diego, looked at 415 women who received preliminary screening tests for the condition approximately six weeks after their children were born.
One-quarter of the 90 women whose husbands were deployed at any point during their pregnancy screened positive, according to the study, compared with 11% of the women whose husbands were not deployed.
Researchers found that women whose husbands were deployed during their pregnancies had 2.7 times the risk of screening positive.
The women who screened positive were referred for further mental health services. The study did not follow those women to learn whether they were ultimately diagnosed with postpartum depression.
Still, Dr. Vivien Burt, director of the Women's Life Center at the UCLA Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, said the results underscored the need for action because previous studies had shown that a mother's depression could leave lasting scars.
"The impact is dramatic and has a ripple effect on other family members," she said.