...By Roland Peterson for TDPel Media.
Up to one in four African girls become mothers before the age of 18, which can result in mental health issues such as high levels of depression.
Research indicates that pregnant and parenting teenagers often experience poorer mental health compared to adult mothers.
Vulnerability Factors for Teenage Mothers:
Various factors contribute to the susceptibility of teenage mothers to mental illness.
In conservative societies, pregnant and unmarried adolescent girls face shame and exclusion.
Parenting itself is a stressful experience, and early and unintended pregnancies add to the pressure.
Additionally, the loss of childhood can overwhelm and distress adolescent girls.
The Impact of Poverty:
Adolescent mothers from impoverished backgrounds and communities face an even higher risk of experiencing severe depression.
These girls encounter social inequality, chronic stress, violence, and food insecurity.
The challenges they face are compounded when they become mothers.
Lack of Focus on Mental Well-being:
Limited attention has been given to the mental well-being of pregnant and parenting adolescent girls in Africa.
Scant research results in a lack of programs and interventions targeting this group, missing an opportunity to address their poor mental health.
Research Findings on Depression among Pregnant and Parenting Girls in Burkina Faso and Malawi:
A recent study examined the prevalence of probable high depression among pregnant and parenting girls in Burkina Faso and Malawi.
These countries were selected due to their potential for policy change regarding adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
The study utilized the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 for diagnosing depression, identifying individuals who met the clinical criteria as probably depressed.
Factors Associated with High Depression:
The study investigated factors linked to a higher likelihood of depression.
It found that depression rates were highest among girls who experienced sexual, emotional, and physical violence from their partners.
Other contributing factors included partners denying paternity or refusing to provide support, lack of community support, and perceived neighborhood unsafety.
Depression Prevalence and Implications:
The study revealed that the prevalence of probable high depression in Burkina Faso was 18.8%, while in Malawi, it was 14.5%.
Unfortunately, cases of depression often went undiagnosed and untreated, posing potential risks to the well-being of both the girls and their babies.
Detailed Study Methodology:
The researchers interviewed 980 adolescent girls in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and 669 girls in Blantyre, Malawi, in 2021.
The girls were asked about the frequency of various problems associated with depression over the past two weeks.
The study also collected information on their families, partners, and neighborhoods.
Findings from Burkina Faso:
The study identified birth status as the only individual factor significantly associated with probable depression in Burkina Faso.
Girls who had already given birth were 35% less likely to report depression compared to those currently pregnant.
This group may have had time to develop coping mechanisms after experiencing the disappointment of early and unintended pregnancy.
Intimate partner violence doubled the likelihood of high depression among girls, and paternity denial emerged as a major risk factor.
Findings from Malawi:
In Malawi, having a secondary education level was strongly associated with a lower likelihood of reporting depression.
Education offers optimism about future job prospects and acts as a protective factor against depression.
Exposure to intimate partner violence increased the risk of depression.
Support from parents and partners played a crucial role in shielding young mothers from high depression.
Feeling safe in their neighborhoods was also associated with a lower likelihood of depression.
Depression is a common issue among pregnant and parenting adolescent girls in Africa, emphasizing the need for routine screenings during prenatal and postpartum visits.
Governments and developmental partners should strengthen healthcare systems to provide comprehensive therapy that addresses the vulnerabilities associated with high depression in this vulnerable population.