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February 1, 2013

Are mothers in combat more prone to depression?

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta signed an order Thursday allowing women the same opportunities as men to serve in combat, including formerly off-limits assignments on attack submarines and in the Navy SEALs. Just two weeks before the announcement, researchers from San Diego's Naval Health Research Center published a study suggesting that some recent mothers deployed on the battlefield may be more prone to depression after seeing action.

"Women who deploy and report combat-associated exposures after childbirth are significantly more likely to screen positive for maternal depression than are women who did not deploy after childbirth," concluded the study, titled "Is Military Deployment a Risk Factor for Maternal Depression?" and appearing in the Journal of Women's Health. "It is also possible," the report noted, "that giving birth and leaving a young child, in addition to the experience of combat, contribute to postdeployment depression."

The study included eight co-authors, five of them associated with the Naval Health Research Center, a research and development laboratory within the Department of Defense. It was based on surveys of more than 1,600 women who "gave birth during active duty service."

Not all branches of the armed forces showed the same results. "Participants who served in the Army had an increased risk of maternal depression; Army service members tend to be deployed longer and more frequently than personnel serving in the Navy and Air Force," the study found.

Of course, you don't have to be a mom to experience depression on the front line. The report points out that "the increased rate of depression is primarily attributed to experiencing combat while deployed," not just to whether a solider is also a parent.

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