The relationship between pregnancy and mental health concerns for women veterans is explored in a new study published in the Journal of Women’s Health. The researchers focus on the experiences of American women veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who are enrolled in the government-based Veterans Health Administration (VHA) system.
The three main goals of the study are: to identify the rates of pregnancy-related care being received by this group of veterans from VHA; to examine the degree to which women veterans receiving pregnancy-related care also experience mental health ailments; and finally, to examine the extent to which pregnant women also receive mental health care at the VHA.
The study found that compared with all women enrolled in VHA care, women who had a pregnancy were more likely to have a diagnosis of major depression, mild depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or substance use. Veterans with a pregnancy experienced over twice the rates of anxiety, depression and PTSD than women veterans who had not been pregnant. More than half the veterans with a pregnancy and mental health condition had received a diagnosis for the mental health condition from VHA before or at the start of their pregnancy care. Diagnosis was determined before or at the start of pregnancy care in 66 percent of those with PTSD, 62 percent of those with depression and 55 percent for cases of bipolar disorder. In contrast, only five percent of women diagnosed with anxiety disorder received the diagnosis before their pregnancy.
See “Pregnancy and Mental Health among Women Veterans Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Journal of Women’s Health (December 2010; 19: 2159-2166), available at www.liebertonline.com.