Let's hope SA teen pregnancy statistics follow those of the UK and take a real drop soon. Picture: Lebohang Mashiloane
Let's hope SA teen pregnancy statistics follow those of the UK and take a real drop soon. Picture: Lebohang Mashiloane

Mental disorders common in teen pregnancies

By Tebogo Monama Time of article published Sep 9, 2013

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Pretoria - Teenage mothers are at high risk of mental illnesses.

This is according to Simone Honikman, the director of the Perinatal Mental Health Project (PMHP), an initiative based at the University of Cape Town.

Honikman said pregnant teenagers are doubly at risk of mental health disorders before and after the birth, compared to non-adolescents. And mental disorders that appear in adolescence are more likely to persist throughout adulthood, if not properly treated.

The PMHP provides access to mental health care during and after pregnancy to disadvantaged women and teenage mothers at three midwife units in Cape Town.

Honikman said anxiety and depression were the most common mental disorders in teen mothers.

“Most people do not know that they have depression and anxiety, so the disorders go undetected. There is little awareness on the fact that you can get better and that they are treatable.

“At the same time, the health system is not responding to the epidemic at a programmes level.”

She said that local research indicates that 30 to 35 percent of pregnant people deal with depression or anxiety during their pregnancy.

“Adolescents are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety especially if they are from poor backgrounds. So it is a sort of vicious cycle. If teenagers are in situations of poverty and violence where they are unsupported, they are likely to feel depressed or anxious. This leads to low self-esteem where thoughts, decisions and behaviours are affected. They are more likely to get involved in abusive relationships and become pregnant.”

She said that research done in the US among black youth also found that teenage mothers are also more likely to fall pregnant two years after their first baby.

Honikman said that of the teenagers that the PMHP generally sees, most are single mothers, but the trend is slowly changing.

“More boys and young men are becoming involved. Where possible, we work with them too, to empower them to support the mother and baby.”

She said that schools should look into other ways of teaching pupils about sexuality. “It is fine to teach them about sex and sexually transmitted infections but schools must also impart skills.

“They must teach them how to build healthy relationships and develop self-esteem so they do not make unhealthy choices linked to peer pressure and loneliness.”

Honikman said expecting teenagers to abstain from sex was unrealistic. “Schools must think out of the box. There should be access to contraceptives on site. The idea of abstaining serves the anxieties of adults and not the realities of the teenagers.” - Pretoria News

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