Pregnant vets may be at higher risk for mental health problems

By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times

4:48 PM PST, December 22, 2010

Female veterans who become pregnant may be at more risk for mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, a study finds.

Researchers looked at data on 43,078 women who were veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq and were treated at the Veterans Health Administration over five years. Among the study participants, 32% of women who were pregnant had a mental health diagnosis, while 21% of women who were not pregnant received a mental health diagnosis.

When all female vets taking part in VHA healthcare were compared with pregnant vets, pregnant vets were more apt to be diagnosed with major or mild depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, and alcohol or drug abuse or dependence during the study.

Pregnant vets had twice the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety as their non-pregnant peers.

The study authors offered some explanations for the discrepancy: female vets with mental health disorders might be more inclined to ask for treatment at the VHA than women without those disorders, and could have had their pregnancy noted while being cared for. Women who use VHA healthcare but don’t need mental health help may have gotten prenatal care elsewhere and not reported their pregnancies to the VHA. Also,other studies have shown that veterans may be more likely to exhibit risky behavior after coming home from war. And women who have symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental disorders may be more likely to get pregnant.

“[O]ur results point to a need for the VHA to continue to understand the overlap between pregnancy and mental health conditions in VHA patients,” wrote the authors. “By doing so, the VHA will be better able to identify groups of women veterans at potential risk for poor clinical outcomes.”

The study was published recently in the Journal of Women’s Health.

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

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