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Soldiers' wives: Fighting mental, emotional battles of their own

A new study shows higher levels of depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders among Army wives whose husbands have had lengthy deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. New programs aim to help, but there's a stigma in a professional culture that values toughness.

Soldiers from the Michigan Army National Guard are greeted by family and friends as they enter the parking lot of the Corunna Armory in Corunna, Mich. in 2007 for a homecoming ceremony after a 15-month tour of duty in Iraq.

Ryan Garza/The Flint Journal/AP/File

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It’s always been true that when a soldier comes home, he brings the war back with him – emotionally, at least.

In the Civil War, the extreme of the phenomenon was called “soldier’s heart.” Today, it’s known less poetically and more clinically as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

But it’s also true that others are affected as well – particularly close family members. And this is becoming increasingly obvious among spouses of service members sent to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A new study by researchers at RTI International, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences shows that lengthy US Army deployments increase the occurrence of depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and other mental health diagnoses for soldiers' wives left at home.

More stress, more sleepless nights

"This study confirms what many people have long suspected," said Alyssa Mansfield, the study's lead author, now a research epidemiologist at RTI International. "It provides compelling evidence that Army families are feeling the impact of lengthy and repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. The result is more depression, more stress, and more sleepless nights."

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