Different Factors Affect Health of Military Couples, According to Catie O’Neal

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Different Factors Affect Health of Military Couples, According to Catie O’Neal

Catherine O’Neil

Research led by OIBR Fellow and research scientist Catherine O’Neal, with UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences, says enhancing community connections for service members and their civilian spouses may be important in supporting their mental and physical health.

“Military families face challenges, but they should not be defined as challenged families, as that implies dysfunction,” she said. “We work hard to avoid the stigma that because they face situational stressors related to military service, such as deployments, they always experience poor outcomes. Some of them do, and some of them don’t. That is one driving interest in my research—understanding why some people thrive in a challenging situation, and others don’t fare so well.”

Working with colleagues at multiple institutions, O’Neal evaluated data gathered from 273 families to identify the factors that are related to mental health, like anxiety and depression, and that have an impact on physical health for active duty spouses and their civilian partners.

They found a key difference between the service members and their spouses: Service members who were more connected to their military community reported better mental health. Their civilian spouses, on the other hand, reported better mental health when they were more satisfied with military life generally, suggesting quality of life within the military culture is a more influential factor for civilian spouses than being connected to, and engaged with, the military community.

Dr. O’Neal was the lead author on the study, which was published online in the journal Military Psychology.

Since 2016, O’Neal has led or co-authored 14 papers on contexts surrounding military families. She also serves as co-investigator and lead of the research team for Military REACH (MilitaryREACH.org), a project that supports military families by mobilizing research into practical applications.