On an estimate, around 12 million girls aged 15-19 give birth each year in developing regions. In America alone, around 194,000 babies were born to teenage mothers according to the CDC. Though the teenage birth rate has declined steadily since 2009, the young women who go through it experience an incredibly tumultuous period, riddled with mental and physical health complications.
The consequences of teenage pregnancy include a higher risk of anemia, complications with childbirth, an increased risk of premature birth, and social challenges, to name a few. However, the debilitating depression that accompanies them may seem like the toughest mountain to climb.
With the help of counseling psychologist Nishmin Marshall, former director at SAATH: Suicide Prevention Centre and a consultant at BM Institute of Mental Health, let’s take a look at the effects of teenage pregnancy and how mental health issues arising from it can be addressed.
Teenage Pregnancy And Mental Health
According to studies, it is estimated that around 15% of women suffer from depression either during pregnancy or postpartum. But when exclusively focusing on adolescent mothers, the rate of depression in mothers fluctuates between 16% and 44%. It is also stated that depression symptoms among younger mothers are more likely to persist long after the birth of the child.
“It was really hard to go through physically. I was depressed when I was pregnant because I was alone,” says a Reddit user, talking about their journey with teenage pregnancy. “Now my feelings are nothing but love and appreciation for all that my child has given me. Because I’m young, it is important that I make time to still be young. It’s the best way to balance out being a good parent. I feel good now about having her young because I have plenty of energy for her. However, it can be mentally stressful due to finances and trying to get ahead,” they add.
Elaborating on the emotional effects of teenage pregnancy, Nishmin says, “Teenage pregnancy takes a huge toll on a person’s mental health. At this time, they want and need all the support they can get. If they don’t get it or if they see that they are judged, it’s incredibly difficult to go through.
“The mental effects of teenage pregnancy also depend a lot on the partner of that young girl. How the partner is helping, how they’re reacting, if they’re with that girl at that time or not also has a great impact on the situation.”
“I found out at 4 weeks and only made it to 7 weeks but had the worst morning sickness. My boyfriend wanted me to get an abortion (but was supportive either way) and I couldn’t decide. I was sick and in pain for 3 weeks. Then I experienced a miscarriage, and the pain was unbelievable. I never even processed that I was pregnant, and now I’m trying to process the loss too. I never really felt like I was allowed to be upset either. It’s a weird experience,” another Reddit User says.
The Medical Effects Of Teenage Pregnancy
According to a study published by the Maternal Health Journal, teenage mothers demonstrated the poorest health of all the categories of women studied. The National Institute of Health lists out the things teenage mothers are at a higher risk of:
- Contracting STDs
- Premature delivery
- Delivery at low birth weight
Apart from the mental and medical effects of teenage pregnancy, studies have suggested that teenage mothers are at a higher risk of underachievement in educational qualifications, having poorer economic circumstances, and being a single mother.
However, in most situations, it can seem like the biggest consequence of a teenage pregnancy is the social stigma that comes attached to it.
The Social Issues That Come With Teenage Pregnancy
“If and when people come to know, especially in a country like ours, they may shame the person going through teen pregnancy. The hurtful jibes and remarks along the lines of, “You’ve committed a sin, you defamed our family”, can really shake a person out.
“Pregnancy is something that should be celebrated, but when it happens to teens, it turns into an incredibly stressful situation. Apart from the plethora of questions and insults society throws their way, they’re plagued with their own questions and doubts as well.
“The whole process becomes very mentally exhausting. During this entire ordeal, the teenage mother is always on tenterhooks, finding it very hard to be healthy,” says Nishmin.
The medical and emotional effects of teenage pregnancy are clear to see. The rates of depression are reason enough to get anxious about what’s in store, and in most cases, the adolescent mother is left with no idea what to do.
Related Reading: Body Shaming Post Pregnancy Weight Gain – Being A Supportive Husband
Teenage Pregnancy: Next Steps
“Though it’s easier said than done, the most important thing to do is to try and relax as much as you can. If you’ve made the decision to go through this whole thing, you must be brave in dealing with the challenges – emotional, physical or societal – at every step of the way.
“Of course, the people around you are going to talk, but it’s important to understand that what society says cannot define you. Apart from being able to rely on yourself, the most important thing you’re going to need is support from those around you. Support from your partner, from your parents or your loved ones. Once that’s there, half the battle is already won,” says Nishmin.
Given the effects of teenage pregnancy on the mother’s mental health, it is imperative that she receives access to mental health professionals. Nishmin points out the importance and the benefits of therapy.
“A licensed professional will help you untangle your bottled-up feelings. Going ahead with the pregnancy is a daunting task, and receiving support from a mental health professional will help you untangle everything that’s going on in your mind.
“If this person can open up to a counselor or a psychologist or even just a friend who can hear them, it’ll help a lot. After venting it out, it might feel like your burden has literally been halved,” she explains.
Considering the rampant mental effects of teenage pregnancy, making sure the expecting mother receives an adequate amount of mental health care is vital for survival. However, though therapy can literally be life-saving, most women who experience perinatal depression and get detected for it could not receive mental health care.
If you’re currently experiencing teen pregnancy depression, or know of someone who is, Bonobology’s panel of experienced therapists can help you navigate through this difficult time. With the right support, a belief in yourself and adequate mental and prenatal healthcare, there’s no reason why an adolescent mother can’t have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy motherhood as well.