It is not uncommon for combat veterans to exhibit a wide range of psychological conditions, from schizophrenia to depression to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but how do these disorders affect domestic partners, who often serve as veterans' caregivers? Dr Gina Manguno-Mire and colleagues sought to determine the variables that contribute to psychological distress and burden in female partners of combat veterans with PTSD. Results of their findings were published in the February issue of The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease.
A total of 89 male veterans with PTSD and their domestic female partners were interviewed over the telephone using a structured interview. The couples were recruited from outpatient PTSD treatment programs at the New Orleans VA Medical Center and the Jackson VA Medical Center in Mississippi from July 2002 to November 2002. Researchers created specific scales using the Health Belief Model as a guide. The Brief Symptom Inventory-18, which consists of a Global Severity Index (GSI) and subscales assessing levels of depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms, was also administered.
Female partners of combat veterans reported a high degree of psychological distress, with average GSI and subscale scores at the 90th percentile or above. About 15% of female partners reported recent thoughts of suicide and more than 60% reported that their partner demonstrated a physical threat to their well-being. Around a quarter of female partners had received some mental health treatment in the 6 months preceding the study.
The significant predictors of psychological distress were veteran-partner involvement, perceived threat, and recent partner mental health treatment. Increased partner burden was associated with the veterans' PTSD severity (P = .003), partner treatment engagement (P = .071), and perceived threat (P = .048). Finally, female partners who felt a greater amount of control over their partner's emotional difficulties (self-efficacy) were found to have decreased feelings of burden (P = .034).
The authors concluded that partners of vets with PTSD are highly distressed and are receiving limited mental health interventions.