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Mental health in spouses of U.S. Gulf War veterans

APA Citation:

Toomey, R., Alper, R. , Reda, D. J., Baker, D. G., Vasterling, J. J., Blanchard, M., & Eisen, S. A. (2019). Mental health in spouses of U.S. Gulf War Veterans. Psychiatry Research, 275, 287-295. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2019.03.043

Abstract Created by REACH:

Spouses of veterans may be negatively influenced by deployment experiences. However, many previous studies on this topic are limited by only using self-report data sources (e.g., surveys from the veteran only) and examining short-term veteran spouse outcomes. The current study examined the links between Gulf War veterans’ deployment status and mental health after returning home from deployment and the mental health of their spouses. This study addressed previous research limitations by longitudinally examining the mental health of 1,024 spouses of veterans approximately 10 years after the Gulf War and by utilizing clinical diagnostic interviews from both the veteran and the spouse. The results suggest that veteran deployment and the mental health of the veteran after deployment were both associated with long term mental health challenges for their spouses.


Mental health

Military Affiliation:


Subject Affiliation:

Spouse of service member or veteran


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Cross-Sectional Study
Quantitative Study
Secondary Analysis


Toomey, Rosemary, Alpern, Renee, Reda, Domenic J., Baker, Dewleen G., Vasterling, Jennifer J., Blanchard, Melvin, Eisen, Seth A.


Veterans’ spouses are at risk for mental distress and substance use. We examined long term psychological functioning in spouses from a national cohort of 1991 Gulf War era veterans. From clinical interviews, spouses of deployed veterans (n = 488) did not have a greater prevalence of post-war mental disorders compared to spouses of non-deployed veterans (n = 536); however, in couples that were living together since the war, there was an increased risk of anxiety disorders or any one disorder. On questionnaires, the impact varied but was most consistently observed in more severe depression and greater functional impairment in spouses of deployed compared to non-deployed veterans. If a veteran developed post-war anxious/depressive disorders or any one mental disorder, the matched spouse was more likely to develop post-war anxious/depressive disorders or any one mental disorder, respectively. Veteran combat exposure did not similarly increase the risk of spouse post-war mental disorders. Greater spouse self-reported symptomatology was observed in spouses of veterans with anxious/depressive disorders even when controlling for deployment. In summary, the war conferred greater risk for spouse mental disorders and distress for spouses of veterans with mental health disorders, with some increased risk for spouses of deployed veterans, especially in couples together since the war.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

Elsevier Science

Publication Type:

REACH Publication
Featured Research

Author Affiliation:

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, Boston University, RT
Cooperative Study Program Coordinating Center, Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, RA
Cooperative Study Program Coordinating Center, Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, DJR
VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health and VA San Diego Healthcare System, DGB
Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego, DGB
National Center for PTSD and Psychology Service, VA Boston Healthcare System, JJV
Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Boston University, JJV
School of Medicine, Washington University, MB
School of Medicine, Washington University, SAE


military, military spouse, PTSD, depression, anxiety, mental disorder

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

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