Perinatal Symptoms and Treatment Engagement in Female Veterans

Mil Med. 2023 Mar 20;188(3-4):e468-e472. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usab278.


Introduction: Women veterans using Veterans Health Care Administration maternity benefits have a high prevalence of mental health disorders, including depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Additionally, women with psychiatric histories often experience a relapse or worsening of symptoms during pregnancy and postpartum. Adequate perinatal mental healthcare engagement is critical to optimizing outcomes for mother and child.

Materials and methods: This study evaluated psychiatric symptom severity and predictors of women veteran's mental health treatment engagement during pregnancy and postpartum at the VA North Texas Health Care System. Seventy women using Veterans Health Administration were assessed longitudinally via chart review and interviews (including the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) during pregnancy and postpartum. A Friedman test was used to evaluate the change in symptom severity during (1) the 6 months before pregnancy, (2) pregnancy, and (3) postpartum. Multivariate logistic regressions were used to determine predictors of attending outpatient mental health appointments. Potential predictors examined included sociodemographic factors, symptoms of depression, history of military sexual assault, presence of a pre-pregnancy psychiatric diagnosis, and attendance of mental health appointments before pregnancy.

Results: Approximately 40% of participants demonstrated at least mild psychiatric symptoms before pregnancy, and symptom severity did not significantly change across the perinatal period (pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and postpartum) X2 (2, n = 70) = 3.56, P = .17. Depressive symptoms during the 2nd or 3rd trimester were a significant predictor for attendance of mental health appointments during both pregnancy (OR = 1.18, 95% CI, 1.04 to 1.34) and postpartum (OR = 1.18, 95% CI, 1.02 to 1.36). An active psychiatric diagnosis during the 6 months before pregnancy was also a significant predictor of attendance following delivery (OR = 14.63, 95% CI, 1.55 to 138.51).

Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that women with prior histories of mental health conditions will continue to be symptomatic, and this is a good predictor of mental health treatment engagement during the perinatal period.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Child
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Parturition
  • Postpartum Period / psychology
  • Pregnancy
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Veterans* / psychology