With South Africa continuing to experience high numbers of teenage pregnancies, psychiatrists are emphasising the critical mental health impact on teen mothers, as the country observes Pregnancy Awareness Week (6-10 February).
Pregnancy awareness week aims to improve education about pregnancy with the objective of promoting healthy pregnancies, and safe motherhood.
In South Africa, on Christmas Day 2023 alone, 145 of the 1708 births were to teenage mothers, and New Year's Day recorded 190 teenage births.
Between April 2021 and March 2022, 90 000 pregnancies were recorded for girls aged between 10 and 19, with over 150 000 young girls being pregnant in the 2022-2023 financial year.
The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) said they aimed to shed light on the multifaceted challenges faced by this vulnerable demographic.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), worldwide about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder, primarily depression. In developing countries this is even higher, i.e. 15.6% during pregnancy and 19.8% after child birth.
Dr Jessica Stanbridge, a psychiatrist and member of SASOP said women with mental illness have more complicated pregnancies, including pre-term delivery, stillbirths, and newborns with low birth weights.
“The mental health toll on teenagers giving birth cannot be understated. Teenage pregnancies often come with a range of emotional and psychological challenges, impacting the mental well-being of young mothers. The societal stigma, coupled with the abrupt and sudden transition to parenthood, can lead to heightened stress, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
She added that mental health care was essential: “The importance of ongoing mental health care for both mother and child cannot be overstressed. Teenagers often neglect ante-natal care, leading to more complicated pregnancies and harsher disciplinary styles, developmentally impacting the child’s well-being and mental health.
“It is crucial to recognise and address any mental health concerns to ensure the holistic well-being of both young mothers and their newborns.
“The list of conditions and symptoms are vast. The main aim is to know that mental health conditions are common and that seeking professional support early is important. Supporting parental intervention is critical for this vulnerable population, with an emphasis on improved intergenerational mental health,” Stanbridge said.
Symptoms of mental health conditions in teen mothers to look out for include, but are not limited to:
- Low mood
- Difficulty attaching to baby
- Maternal rage
- Difficulty caring for infant
- Suicidal thoughts
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Feeling worthless
- Panic attacks
- Thinking of harming oneself or the baby
- Difficulty enjoying activities