Characterizing Spouse/Partner Depression and Alcohol Problems Over the Course of Military Deployment

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Abstract

Objective: Spouse/partners of military personnel demonstrate elevated levels of distress during military deployments, yet there is insufficient information about courses of adjustment over time. The current study identified trajectories of depression and alcohol use problems and predictors of those trajectories across the deployment cycle. Method: National Guard soldiers (N = 1973) and spouses/intimate partners (N = 1020) completed assessments of risk/protective factors and baseline measures of mental health functioning 2 to 5 months prior to soldiers’ 1-year deployments (Time 1) to Kuwait/Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn or Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Partners’ mental health was reassessed at 4 months (Time 2) and 8 months (Time 3) after soldiers deployed, and both spouses/partners and soldiers were reassessed 2–3 months postdeployment (Time 4). Results: Latent class growth modeling of partner depression symptoms over time revealed 4 groups: Resilience (79.9%), Deployment Distress (8.9%), Anticipatory Distress (8.4%), and Post-Deployment Distress (2.7%). Three alcohol misuse trajectories were identified: Resilience (91.3%), Deployment Onset (5.4%), and Deployment Desistance (3.3%). Predeployment predictors of partners’ depression symptom trajectories varied by group and included soldier reports of stressors and social support and partner levels of neuroticism, introversion, disconstraint, and reported stressors. Predeployment predictors of alcohol misuse trajectories varied by group, and included soldier levels of alcohol misuse as well as partner neuroticism, disconstraint, and family readiness. Conclusions: Delineating and predicting trajectories of partner adjustment can allow for better targeted interventions toward those most at risk for heightened distress or alcohol problems over the deployment cycle.

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