Gender-specific Mental Health Care Needs of Women Veterans Treated for Psychiatric Disorders in a Veterans Administration Women’s Health Clinic

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Abstract

Objective:

This pilot study aims to ascertain the prevalence of self-reported premenstrual, perinatal, and perimenopausal influences on mental health, and of gynecologic conditions that could interact with psychiatric conditions, among women veterans receiving psychiatric care within a Veterans Administration (VA) Women’s Health Clinic (WHC).

Methods:

Participants included all women veterans (N=68) who received psychiatric evaluations within a VA WHC over a 5-month period. This setting encompasses colocated and coordinated primary care, gynecologic and mental health services. Evaluations included a Women’s Mental Health Questionnaire, a psychiatric interview, and medical record review. Deidentified data were extracted from a clinical data repository for this descriptive study.

Results:

High proportions of study participants reported that their emotional problems intensified premenstrually (42.6%), during pregnancy (33.3%), in the postpartum period (33.3%), or during perimenopause (18.2%). Unintended pregnancy (70.0% of pregnancies) and pregnancy loss (63.5% of women who had been pregnant) were prominent sex-linked stressors. Dyspareunia (22.1% of participants) and pelvic pain (17.6% of participants) were frequent comorbidities.

Conclusions:

Among women veterans receiving psychiatric care within a VA WHC, there are high rates of self-reported premenstrual, perinatal, and perimenopausal influences on mental health. This population also has substantial comorbidity of psychiatric disorders with dyspareunia and pelvic pain. This underscores the importance of recognizing and addressing women veterans’ sex-specific care needs, including interactions among reproductive cycle phases, gynecologic pain, and psychiatric symptoms. The findings support the need for greater awareness of the sex-specific mental health needs of women veterans, and for more definitive studies to further characterize these needs.

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