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Examining rates of postpartum depression in Active Duty U.S. military servicewomen

APA Citation:

Nicholson, J. H., Moore, B. A., Dondanville, K., Wheeler, B., & DeVoe, E. R. (2020). Examining rates of postpartum depression in active duty US military servicewomen. Journal of Women’s Health, 29(12), 1530-1539. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2019.8172

Abstract Created by REACH:

Postpartum depression (i.e., PPD; defined as the presence of depressive symptoms up to six months after giving birth) may be uniquely challenging for women Service members (henceforth, Servicewomen) given their possible exposure to military-specific stressors (e.g., previous deployments or combat). This study used data from the Defense Medical Epidemiological Database (DMED), which records any diagnosis given to Service members, to examine rates of PPD diagnoses in active-duty Servicewomen (N = 3,724) from 2001 to 2018. Multiple chi-square tests were conducted to determine whether expected and actual frequencies of PPD diagnoses differed based on Servicewomen’s age, race, marital status, service branch, or military pay grade. Expected frequencies were based on the DMED rates of pregnant Servicewomen in each demographic classification. The results showed that rates of PPD diagnoses were different than expected across demographic factors and that PPD might be underdiagnosed among Servicewomen.


Mental health

Branch of Service:

Air Force
Marine Corps
Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)


Cross-Sectional Study
Quantitative Study
Secondary Analysis


Nicholson, Juliann H., Moore, Brian A., Dondanville, Katherine, Wheeler, Brigid, DeVoe, Ellen R.


Background: Postpartum depression (PPD) is understudied in military populations. The present descriptive transversal study evaluated the incidence of PPD diagnoses in U.S. military electronic health records, based on International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9) and ICD-10 codes, among active duty military servicewomen between 2001 and 2018.Methods: Data on 3,724 active duty military servicewomen who served between 2001 and 2018 were drawn from the Defense Medical Epidemiological Database and stratified by race, age, marital status, service branch, and military pay grade. Single sample chi squares were used to examine observed versus expected differences in diagnosis rates.Results: The incidence rate of PPD among all U.S. military servicewomen was the lowest in 2001 (1.96 per 1,000) and the highest in 2018 (29.95 per 1,000). Servicewomen most often diagnosed with PPD were white (60%), married (74%), in the enlisted pay grades of E-1 to E-4 (60%), in the Army (43%), and were between 20 and 24 years old (46%). Statistically significant differences (p < 0.001) were found between observed and expected counts across all five demographic variables.Conclusions: This is the first population-based study to assess the incidence rates of PPD among all active duty military servicewomen. Findings that some groups were over- and underdiagnosed within each demographic category, and that PPD incidence rates have increased between 2001 and 2018, underscore the importance of further research to inform policies and interventions supporting this vulnerable population.

Publisher/Sponsoring Organization:

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Publishers

Publication Type:

REACH Publication
Featured Research

Author Affiliation:

Boston University School of Social Work, JHN
Department of Psychiatry, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, BAM
Department of Psychology, the University of Texas at San Antonio, BAM
Department of Psychiatry, the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, KD
Department of Psychology, the University of Texas at San Antonio, BW
Boston University School of Social Work, ERD


postpartum depression, ppd, Servicewomen

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

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