Postpartum depression strikes about one in every eight women within about six months of having a baby, but University of Iowa researchers say the rate may be higher for women veterans.
Dr. Michael O’Hara, a professor in the U-I Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, is working with the Veterans Administration on a program to help women veterans suffering from postpartum depression, especially those in rural areas.
“Many of them have been exposed to combat situations or have been in war zones or might have experienced sexual or physical abuse while they were in the military,” O’Hara says. “These kinds of exposures to traumatic events are associated with higher rates of depression.” The U-I is now working with about 40 women veterans through an online pilot program that involves six sessions over six weeks targeting mood management.
“The Mom Mood Booster program is basically focusing on helping women who are experiencing postpartum depression to increase their participation in positive events, to manage their negative mood and cognitions,” O’Hara says. “It focuses on the partner relationship and the woman’s relationship with the baby.” Some symptoms of postpartum depression may include low moods, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, insomnia, appetite disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and suicidal thoughts.
So far, he says the Mom Mood Booster program is having a positive impact. “We support it with what we call phone coaches,” O’Hara says. “These are staff members who contact the women veterans every week, provide support and encouragement, answer questions and just help to keep them motivated to go through the program.” O’Hara’s own experiences in the military may help him relate to some of the pressures women veterans are dealing with, as he served four-and-a-half years in the Navy during the Vietnam era.
“Certainly, there weren’t nearly as many women in the service back in those days but I knew many women and they had lots of difficult experiences,” O’Hara says. “It does make a difference being a veteran myself and that’s part of my motivation to reaching out to the VA to do work with veteran women. It feels like I can give back a little bit.”
Women in rural areas often don’t seek out or have access to mental health care, so O’Hara says reaching out to rural veteran women is important. The program will run through September and then the VA will determine whether to continue funding.