Mental Health Challenges Are 4 Times Higher Among Young Mothers, Study Finds

Forbes | Clary Estes

A new study from McMaster Children's Hospital published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that two out of three young mothers (aged 21 and younger) have at least one mental health problem after the birth of their child.

Young mothers have been found to have a prevalence of mental health challenges that is up to four times higher than their peers and mothers older than 21 years of age, with almost 40% of young moms having more than one mental health issue, including depression, a range of anxiety disorders, and hyperactivity. The findings, while disquieting, shed better light on the mental health challenges of young mothers and open the door for researchers and physicians to create more inclusive screening processes to insure the health and safety of young mothers and their children.

“Now that we understand that young mothers can struggle with problems other than just postpartum depression, our findings can be used to develop better screening processes, more effectively detect mental health problems in teenaged mothers, and direct treatment,” says lead author, Dr. Ryan Van Lieshout, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences at McMaster University.

Not only does the study shed light on the prevalence of mental health issues among young mothers, it also highlights a blind spot in the research and understanding of the types of mental health issues that these young mothers are facing. “Young mothers can face a great deal of adversity both before and after becoming a parent, yet next-to-nothing has been known about the rates and types of significant mental health problems among these women in our community,” says Van Lieshout. “We did this study to better understand these problems so that we can help to improve outcomes for young mothers and their families.”

The study recruited 450 mothers younger than 21 years old, as well as 100 comparison mothers older than 20 years old, at the time of their first delivery between 2012 and 2015 from Hamilton, Niagara, Haldimand-Norfolk, and Brant counties in surrounding Ontario, Canada. “Because Canadian teen mothers are a difficult group to study, most previous research was based on very small samples and used mailed questionnaires rather than doing direct interviews," says Van Lieshout. "Structured diagnostic interviews are the gold standard for this kind of research. We're glad to have used this method to talk to hundreds of young mothers about their experiences."

As more studies of this vulnerable community are conducted, it will be interesting to see how medical procedural coverage, as well as political policy in both the US and Canada will develop to help young mothers cope, as well as support the success of them and their families as they age and grow into their communities. “We hope that this sparks partnerships between healthcare, educational, and social service organisations so that we can meet the needs of this vulnerable population,” says Van Lieshout.


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