New research from McMaster Children’s Hospital shows that two out of three young mothers have at least one mental health problem.
The researchers found that teenage mothers have a much higher prevalence of mental health problems than mothers 21 years of age or older and teenagers who are not parents. Almost 40% of young moms have more than one mental health problem, including depression, a range of anxiety disorders and hyperactivity. This is up to four times higher than mothers aged 21 and over and childless teenagers.
Now that we understand that young mothers can struggle with problems other than postpartum depression, our results can be used to develop better screening processes, more effectively detect mental health problems in adolescent mothers and treat them directly.
We hope this will spark partnerships between health, education and social service organizations so that we can meet the needs of this vulnerable population. “
Dr. Ryan Van Lieshout, psychiatrist and Canadian research president in perinatal planning of mental disorders
He is also an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at McMaster University.
The study, recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, states that identifying and treating mental health problems in young mothers is particularly important as their health also affects the well-being of their children. The research recommends “further efforts should be directed towards involving and treating this high-risk group.”
“Young mothers can face many adversities both before and after becoming parents, but almost nothing has been known about the rates and types of significant mental health problems among these women in our community,” says Dr. Van Lieshout. “We did this study to better understand these issues so that we can help improve outcomes for young mothers and their families.”
Between 2012 and 2015, the young mothers health study recruited 450 mothers under the age of 21 and 100 comparison mothers over the age of 20 at the time of their first birth. The mothers came from the counties of Hamilton, Niagara, Haldimand-Norfolk and Brant. Funded by Hamilton Health Sciences, this study is the first in Canada and one of the first in the world to use diagnostic interviews to examine a range of mental health problems beyond postpartum depression.
Since Canadian teenage mothers are a difficult group to study, most of the previous research was based on very small samples and used questionnaires sent by post rather than direct interviews. Structured diagnostic interviews are the gold standard for this type of research. We are delighted to have used this method to talk to hundreds of young mothers about their experiences. “
Dr. Van Lieshout, lead author of the research paper
Young age-matched mothers were also compared with childless women aged 15 to 17 from the 2014 Ontario Children’s Health Study, who were assessed for mental disorders.