Teenage Mothers with postnatal depression – Are we doing enough to support them?

The UK has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Europe with recent estimates of 50,000 each year in England under the age of 20 of which 80% were aged 18-19. Teenage mothers are three times more likely to develop Postnatal Depression [PND] in the first year after their child’s birth which means approximately 40% of teenage mothers are affected. [1]

Many factors can contribute to a teenage mother developing PND including coming from a lower socio economic background, previous mental illness, isolation and low self-esteem. If PND is not identified it can have a long term impact on child’s cognitive and psychological development. It is of great importance that a young mother experiencing symptoms of PND can have access to appropriate professional support from Health Visitors, GPs and other agencies such as specialist Perinatal Mental Health Teams.

Teenage mothers have a very unique set of needs when it comes to accessing support; the fear of social services becoming involved upon seeking help for PND is very common and often prevents teenage mothers from reaching out for help from professionals. It is so important that we inform mums of the process when a PND diagnosis is confirmed and that contacting social services is usually a last resort by health care professionals.

Many young mothers do not feel confident enough to attend general postnatal depression support groups where available for fear of judgement. The following taken from the Young Mums Together Report by the Mental Health Foundation clearly indicates the importance of educating young mothers with the information that professionals are not to be feared:

“Young mothers’ barriers to seeking support were primarily related to fear of reprisal from social services, negative past experiences and perceived stigma. These barriers were mediated by facilitating new and positive experiences with various professionals, from dental practitioners to counsellors to family practitioners”.

With many young mothers being diagnosed with PND there is a need to address the lack of young parent specific support as these mums are such a vulnerable group it is critical they have local access to non-judgemental support from both peers and professionals. Knowing there is specific young parent support available can help alleviate isolation; a young mother may chose not to attend a group straight away or at all but simply knowing it is there shows these mothers that they are as important as any older mother to our society and that they can access the support and services to encourage them to continue or return to learning which enables them to grow in confidence and create a brighter more secure future for both themselves and their child[ren].

Becoming a mother at a young age is perhaps not seen as “ideal” for many reasons by a lot of society however it does not “ruin” their lives in fact many young mothers become stronger and more determined to create a better future for themselves as a result and with the right support and encouragement they can achieve whatever they set out to, we must empower these young mothers to challenge the publics perception of being a young mother and show that young mothers are just as capable of contributing to society in a positive way as older mothers.

“While it is important to recognise the many challenges faced by young mothers and their children, it is essential that the benefits of being a young parent are recognised and enhanced through providing appropriate services. For example, young mothers reported feeling stronger after becoming a mother; having a baby marked positive life changes, such as re-engagement with education, training and employment”.

Teenage mothers are so often given a bad press by the negative stories we read online and in magazines but not nearly enough credit is given to these young mothers who are often bringing up their child[ren] alone with up to 60% being lone parents. Adjusting to motherhood is a massive task but especially for these younger mothers and there must be better support out there for them to access to help them adjust to this life change and the challenges it presents.

It is an isolating time suffering with PND for any mother and often young mothers are isolated from their peers because of pregnancy and a new baby so it is of even more importance to create a new support network for these mothers to access to help alleviate the loneliness that can often be a big factor in PND.

There are many wonderful groups and services out there across the UK that cater specifically for young mothers, however there is still a need to increase these as it is a huge postcode lottery as to services available that provide specialist mental health support for teenage mothers. These young mums often feel forgotten or not as important as older mothers, we must help them to see that they matter and that their health and wellbeing are important to society.

In short we must do all we can to help reduce the stigma surrounding young mothers and provide them with the specialist perinatal mental health support they need to help give both them and their child[ren] the best possible start, it is the very least they deserve and if we as a society can’t give these young mothers the help they need to create a bright future for themselves – then we have failed them and no mother should ever feel failed no matter what her age.

Becoming a young mother is not the end of a her story it is the start of a new exciting and empowering one.

 [1] Statistics and quotes taken from Young Mums Together Report by Mental Health Foundation


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