How to Safeguard The Mental Health Of Your Pregnant Teen
When teenage pregnancy occurs, it impacts much more than a teen’s physical, social, and religious life; her mental health is also at risk. Teenage pregnancy here refers to a child between the ages of 13 – 19 who falls pregnant (mostly out of wedlock).
At this stage (teenage/adolescence), girls are undergoing puberty. Bodily changes happen so fast, leaving them confused, what with the mood swings, irritable facial breakouts, monthly menstrual flow, breast growth, hip enlargement, and hormonal turmoil.
Teenagers are more conscious of their appearances during puberty and have an increasing need for acceptance amongst their peers. This need for acceptance makes them vulnerable to peer group influence. It is under this influence that most teens experiment with sex and subsequently fall pregnant.
They engage in sex and substance abuse because they feel a need for social acceptance and inclusion, without much thought to the consequences. When pregnancy occurs, they are taken aback and spiral into a ball of emotions: fear, confusion, anxiety, shame, unworthiness, which is made worse if the owner of the pregnancy is not supportive. This emotional turmoil affects their mental health negatively.
What is Mental Health?
Mental health involves an individual’s emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. it affects how we think, feel, and act and is also a determinant of how we handle stress, interpersonal relationships, and choices. Teenage pregnancy is a major cause of mental health problems or disorders.
For a better understanding of mental health, we need to take a look at what normal and unstable mental health is. Stable or normal state of Mental health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is ”a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.
The World Health Organization further defines mental disorders as including a large range of problems, with different symptoms, which are generally characterized by a combination of abnormal thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and relationships with others.
Examples of mental health disorders include Clinical Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Post Partum Depression, Substance Abuse, Suicidal Thoughts and Tendencies, Schizophrenia, maniac
All over the world, it is not uncommon for teenagers to get pregnant out of wedlock, either by choice, mistake, or force. It is a universal phenomenon defying ethnicity, tribe, or race.
Research has it that pregnant teenagers are more at risk of mental health challenges than more mature, married women. The study documents that the rate of depression among teen moms are estimated at between 16% and 44%, a far cry from between 5% and 20% among non-pregnant teens and pregnant adult women. This is quite alarming. Pregnant teens should, therefore, be properly cared for, with particular attention given to their mental health.
Prevalent Mental Health Disorders Among Teen Moms.
Depression or Major Depressive Disorder.
This is a medical condition that causes feelings of sadness and loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. It is an illness that negatively affects how one feels, thinks, and acts. It is characterized by
- Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, shame, fear, isolation, guilt
- Loss of interest in favorite activities, people and places
- Amnesia and/or oversleeping
- Suicidal thoughts
- Changes in eating habits
- Difficulty in thinking, concentration, coordination
- Loss of interest in personal hygiene and grooming
These symptoms which are first noticed by close friends, family, and caregivers, must generally persist for more than two weeks to be termed depression.
Peripartum Depression (Prenatal and Post Partum).
Peripartum depression is related to pregnancy, occurring during pregnancy or after childbirth. This means that prior to pregnancy; the teen had no history of depression. It is a serious condition that is detrimental to both mother and child, born and unborn. For peripartum depression, symptoms include in addition to those of depression, fear of harming the baby, not being good enough as a mother, lack of interest in the baby, oneself and environment, unnecessary crying, eating disorder, and suicidal thoughts. Peripartum depression is not only harmful to the mother, but to the baby too. It limits bonding between mother and child, negatively affects mom’s physical care for her baby.
Excessive intake and abuse of prescription drugs, intoxicating drugs, and alcoholic beverages such as marijuana, Cocaine, Heroin, and others during pregnancy and after childbirth affects the mental wellbeing of teen moms. Substance or hard drugs are taken out of habit, to douse pains, or to feel ‘high’ by pregnant teens who cannot cope with being pregnant. These substances when taken play tricks on the mind making the teen feel out of her body and world, temporarily easing her pains.
Suicidal Thoughts and Attempts.
This is where the pregnant teen or teen mom repeatedly thinks about taking her own life because she feels she cannot cope with her situation. She feels death will grant her solace and rest from her troubles and toys with the idea and means of ending her life. Sometimes, they go the extra mile and make an attempt to kill themselves with anything they believe will do it fast.
Causes of Mental Health Disorder amongst Pregnant Teenagers
Adolescence in itself is a very trying, luminal period in everyone’s life. A lot of confusing things happen almost at the same time which confounds the child. At this stage, the child is vulnerable to mental health challenges if adequate support is not available at home and school.
The causes of mental health disorders among pregnant young persons are
Poverty is a major cause of mental health disorders among teenagers. A study, The National Child Development Study Data between 1958 and 2008 by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies indicate that children from the lowest-income families are four times more likely (16%) to exhibit psychological problems than rich children (4%). Poverty is associated with a lack of money in itself, and also a lack of basic amenities such as shelter, clothing, food, and qualitative education. Children know their parents are poor and struggle to meet their needs; this leads to self stigmatization and low self-esteem, social seclusion, bullying, and a feeling of shame. They are unsure of their future and feel useless about it. These are all triggers for mental health disorders if left unattended.
Substance abuse is a major cause of mental health issues among teenagers, pregnant or no. it is a result of peer group influence, experimentation, a need to be high or habit. Adolescents who abuse drugs are more likely to be affected by mental health issues than their counterparts who are clean.
Migration, Natural, and Emergency Disasters.
Although humans are migratory in nature, forced migration due to war and other forms of extreme violence is traumatic. Children are uprooted from their comfort zones and taken to new environments where they are camped in dire situations in refugee camps. They feel lost and withdraw into their shells. The cause of migration, coupled with homelessness and the attitude of the people in their new environment can cause mental disorders.
Exposure to domestic, sexual, and gender-based violence.
Teenagers who are exposed to any form of extreme violence are more at risk of mental health disorders than their counterparts who have never experienced any form of extreme violence. Extreme violence is traumatic because it is shrouded in secrecy, threats, and shame. The developing mind of a teenager may not be able to contain all that thereby leading to some sort of mental disorder.
Lack of Adequate Social Support.
Social support is vital in maintaining stable mental health amongst pregnant teenagers and mothers. When a girl child falls pregnant, there is a tendency of her to be isolated and discriminated against. She is segregated from her mates, friends, church, and some times, family. This has an adverse effect on her mental health and should be discouraged. Pregnant teenagers need all the support they can get morally, socially, and otherwise in order to thrive mentally.
Illiteracy and Unemployment.
Teenage pregnancy is more likely to occur amongst families living in low-income areas, who are also not educated.
Caring for a baby. Caring for a baby is a stressor that can overwhelm an adolescent’s mind. They worry about how to provide and care for the baby, the sleepless nights, not having a life of their own after childbearing, and many are ashamed of their babies. The stress of caring for a baby is more when the mother is alone without much assistance. This could take a toll on her mental health.
How to Safeguard the Mental Health of Your Pregnant Teenager.
How then, do you as a caregiver safeguard the mental health of your teenager? As a caregiver or mother/family of a pregnant teen, it is imperative that you provide her with all the support you can offer, bearing in mind that she is going through tough times being pregnant. What do you do?
1. Accept Her. As painful and disappointing as it may be that your daughter falls pregnant as a teenager, you have to accept her. She should in no case be thrown out of the home to go live on her own. Accept the fact that she made the mistake, forgive her and take her in. by accepting her; you must not berate her every day for her mistake. Make her feel safe and loved, gently admonishing her against future mistakes. Do not force her to have an abortion or give up the child for adoption against her will. It could lead to long-lasting trauma.
2. Listen to her. Whenever she feels like talking about how she feels being pregnant, listen to her. She might spill her gut feelings in such discussions from which you will understand her fears and challenges.
3. Support Her. Support is her greatest need during this time. Adequate, positive parental support provides a psychological safe haven for her. Be her social support, psychological support, physical, emotional, and spiritual support. Make her feel loved. Support her financially if need be and be there for her when the baby comes. Let her see that you love and care for her and are not angry.
4. Know the signs of mental health disorder. Know the signs so that you can recognize them when you see them in your pregnant teenager. If noticed, try talking to her and if it gets beyond you, get help immediately.
5. Get help. Mental health problems should not be something to be ashamed of, because it is a treatable condition. Immediately an adverse behavior is seen in a pregnant teen, seek help. Help could be medical, psychological, spiritual, or anyone you are comfortable with. Don’t be ashamed to talk to a professional about it in order to control the situation before it gets more serious.