The Guest Spot: Jess Banas

Military Moms Face Higher PPD Risk: The story behind the Report

written by Jess Banas, Online PSI Coordinator

This past year, Jess Banas composed a report regarding the increased risk faced by Military moms who experience a deployment either during their pregnancy or within the first year following the pregnancy. What she discovered is astounding and the following article details her experience of uncovering the story.

I always feel odd when my kids go back to school after a long hot summer…..don’t get me wrong, it is nice to have the free time, but it feels like a bit too much free time to me.  There is so much frenetic activity around the house in the summer and then all of a sudden, it comes to an abrupt halt!!  The house gets so quiet and calm, yet I still feel like there are kids to entertain and things I have to get done!

Last year was no exception, so when September rolled around and I found myself with an empty quiet house and a bunch of extra energy, I decided to pray that my free time could go to good use.  I asked God to make me an instrument for change… show me the direction you want me to go now……not the first time I have asked God to do that, but one of many times.

He always answers me when I pray for this.  This time was no different.  In fact, the next day, I received the September MedEdPPD Newsletter.  I decided since I had the time, to sit and give it a read.  I had not had a chance to read any article from MedEdPPD before and wondered if there was anything worthwhile inside of it.

Turns out, MedEdPPD said there was a very interesting article about military moms getting PPD that was recently published in the International Herald Tribune.

I looked up the article and read it.  There was one statement that really caught my attention:

Repeated, Extended Deployments Stressing US Military Families

The Associated Press
Published: August 11, 2007

‘Pregnant women with deployed husbands have 2.8 times as much risk of developing postpartum depression as other pregnant women, say researchers at San Diego’s Naval Medical Center.’

Perhaps that statement caught my attention because I did too many word problems with my son’s math class the previous year.  Perhaps because I am a bit of a statistics nerd and am far too curious for my own good.  Perhaps that statement caught my attention because I had said that prayer the day before.  For whatever reason and because of that statement, I started to wonder….

Could pregnant women with deployed husbands get PPD 56% of the time?!  The statisical risk for PPD in the general population is 15-20%, so if you multiply 2.8 by 20% you get 56%.

How many people in a certain/specific population has to become ill with something before that illness is considered to be of epidemic proportions?

Would those statistics also pertain to the number of women who are so severely depressed that they
attempt suicide?!  That percentage could be as high as 35%!!

Exactly how many women are we talking about here?!

And most important of all:

Did these women know how great their risk for PPD was?!?

My stomach was starting to churn.  I had to figure this out.  I just HAD to.  There was no question except how.  How was I going to figure this all out.

I was intimidated by the task ahead of me.  I worried that some of the people I had worked with over the past seven years would think I was nuts, but I also knew that these were the same people who had the answers.  All I had to do was just be brave enough to ask the questions.  So I thought about all the families who were represented by the numbers and I wrote some emails to my peers at PSI.

To my great delight, no one thought I was nutty at all.  In fact, I received an outpouring of information, medical reports relating to PPD, direction, and support.  Wendy Davis of PSI sent me the summary of the abstract that the article in the Herald was written about and suggested I contact the main author (Dr. Jeffrey Millegan), directly.

I was very nervous and my hands were shaking when I dialed Dr. Millegan’s number.  I was sure that it would take months before I got to speak with him, but to my surprise, his office connected me directly to him.  I told him who I was and asked him about his abstract’s percentages.  He said the risk was 2.31 (not 2.8 ) times greater for women who had deployed spouses and told me he’d be happy to send me a copy of the abstract via email.  He was more than kind and extremely forthcoming with his information.  He even directed me to the Pentagon for more information.  I was so relieved to find him such a considerate, open minded man and thanked him profusely for his time.

I had lots of reports and studies from my peers, so my next step was to contact the Pentagon and try to get as close to an accurate number of women at risk.  I found the Pentagon’s website and was connected to Public Affairs Officer, Janice Ramseur at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense – American Forces Information Services (What a mouthful!!).  I asked her for the the approximate number of military wives who became pregnant last year prior to their husbands deployment.  On September 28th, I received a (5) Microsoft Office Excel document that stated approximately 357,000 women became pregnant last year before their husbands were deployed.

I had everything I needed to figure out all the answers to my questions.  Now I needed to put everything together and get the information to as many people as possible.  I decided to ask Susan Stone, the President of PSI, to publish my findings.  She not only agreed, she thanked me for doing it and helped me with editing my work, so it would be met with respect and considered by medical professionals.  I was so excited!

Once my ‘report’ was finished, I sent it to the PSI Research Chairperson, Dr. Merrill Sparago for verification.  It has now been posted on PSI’s website for medical professionals to read.  The part of the report that is most important to me is this statement:

‘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.’

I hope the work I did inspires additional research and programs to support expectant military families.  More importantly, I hope women affected by the statistics get the information they need to appropriately plan for the possibility of PPD.  As the Herald Tribune article stated, ‘Families are the backbone of our soldiers. That’s what holds you together,’

Personally, I want those families to be as strong as possible.  They are the backbone and that backbone should not be weakened if our soldiers are going to be laying their lives on the line for us.  Strengthening that backbone is the very least that we can do for them, isn’t it?

If you are a military family and need support for PPD, please consider these important resources:

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