Montana State University

MSU nursing professor developing program to help military moms

July 8, 2009 -- Anne Pettinger, MSU News Service


MSU nursing professor Kathleen Schachman is developing a Web-based intervention designed to reduce the incidence of postpartum depression among military mothers. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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When Valerie Roseberry gave birth to her second daughter, she said she felt like she was in a fog, and she worried she wouldn't be able to hold her baby without dropping her.

"I couldn't get my arms to work right," said Roseberry, whose husband serves in the military. "I just felt off. I didn't enjoy life the way I should."

This feeling of fogginess was in stark contrast to her experience with her first daughter's birth, Roseberry said, when she felt excited, euphoric and empowered.

At first, Roseberry attributed her irritable and negative feelings after her second daughter's birth to a variety of other factors: her husband's deployment, the anniversary of her mother's death, her older child's acting out.

But once her husband returned from his three-month deployment and things didn't get better, she began to wonder if there was a different explanation. She talked with her doctor, and together they realized that Roseberry was suffering from postpartum depression. Roseberry now serves as the military family coordinator for an international support group for postpartum depression.

Women like Roseberry -- mothers who have postpartum depression and are married to men who serve in the military -- are exactly the individuals that Montana State University's Kathleen Schachman is trying to help.

Schachman, who is a professor in MSU's College of Nursing, says that about 15 percent of all new moms have postpartum depression. But recent research suggests that as many as 50 to 60 percent of military mothers experience postpartum depression.

Schachman defines postpartum depression as the emotional and physical reactions occurring any time within the first year after the birth of a baby, characterized by feelings of sadness, despair, hopelessness, and 
 discouragement. She says the incidence may be high with military families because many military moms are young and live far from family and friends. Sometimes their husbands have been deployed.

"Moving around quickly from base to base makes it difficult to form relationships," she said.

To help these mothers, Schachman is developing a Web-based intervention that she will make available to moms at a military hospital. When new moms come in for their six-week postpartum checkup, they'll receive an access code to the Web site where they will participate in an interactive treatment.

The intervention will use a form of therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, to help women control what Schachman calls "warped" thoughts.

"When women have postpartum depression, they often think, 'there's something wrong with me, or my baby,'" Schachman said. "This is a warped thought. I want to give these women tools to think in a more positive way."

The intervention can be used at any time and from any place, and Schachman thinks that its accessibility and flexibility will help persuade mothers to try it out. The anonymity it provides might also reach women who might be afraid of stigmas that are associated with depression.

The intervention will also include a discussion forum, which Schachman thinks will be helpful because military wives so frequently depend on one another for support.

Schachman hopes to have the Web-based intervention completed by the fall. She then hopes to have 10 to 15 military mothers try it out. Then, a year or two down the road, Schachman hopes to make it available to a larger group of women.

"I think it really holds some promise," said Schachman. She added that she is not trying to replace one-on-one counseling with this intervention, but is merely trying to complement the services that are currently available.

Schachman's husband recently retired after 25 years with the Marine Corps, and her experience living and working with military families as a nurse helped guide her to this research.

Schachman surveyed women about postpartum depression while she and her husband were stationed in Japan.

"It became evident to me that military families really struggle," she said.

"Having a baby is tough enough, but having one in the military makes it that much more difficult," she added.

The intervention might fill an important niche. Schachman pointed to research that suggests that fewer than 1 in 5 women who have postpartum depression get treatment. In the military, Schachman thinks the percentage of women receiving treatment is even lower.

This might be because brand-new moms are often isolated at home, and stigmas about depression might prevent moms from seeking help. Many women are also afraid of taking medications when they are breastfeeding, and knowing what resources are available on a military base or in a new community is an added challenge, Schachman said.

Schachman hopes that educating people about how postpartum depression seems to be more prevalent in military communities might help more people seek treatment earlier.

Roseberry echoed that sentiment.

"I think that if I had been better informed about postpartum depression, I could have gotten better sooner," she said.

Kathleen Schachman, (406) 994-2705 or Kathleen.schachman@montana.edu