In May of 2014, a new study examined the fertility rates of adolescents between the ages of 15-19 and its relationship with mental illness. The research revealed that those females with teen depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychotic disorders are three times as likely to become pregnant versus those girls without a mental illness. The results of the population based study was published in Pediatrics
Although the overall number of teen pregnancies in the United States has declined significantly over the last 20 years, pregnancies among teens with mental illnesses are increasing. In general, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the teen pregnancy rate has been falling by half since 1991. Nonetheless, the numbers are still high. Research indicates that one in every seven female teens will have a child before the age of 20. In general, the birth rate for girls between the ages of 15-19 is 29 per every 1000.
In comparison, the birth rate among adolescents with a mental illness is approximately 45 for every 1000. The advantage of knowing this can facilitate the efforts made by social service agencies that are trying to prevent teenage pregnancy might focus on this specific adolescent population.
Dr. Simone Vigod, author of the study and psychiatrist at Women’s College Hospital said, “research tells us that young girls are at high risk of pregnancy complications, including pre-term birth, poor fetal growth, and postpartum depression. Add to his pre-existing mental illness, and these young women are forced to manage significant additional challenges.
Certainly, teens that give birth are typically not properly equipped to handle the large task of parenting. They lack the financial, psychological, and emotional stability. Furthermore, characteristic of adolescence is the developing brain. The frontal cortex completes its growth during ages 23-26, and performs the functions of reasoning, planning, judgment, and impulse control. Its underdevelopment might explain a teen’s tendency to make poor decisions and an inability to discern whether a situation is safe. Teens tend to experiment with risky behavior and don’t fully recognize the consequences of their choices. Add to this the presence of a mental illness. A female teen might have the odds against her, particularly if she has already experienced some form of abuse, sexual or physical.
Also, female teens tend to be more at risk for depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and anxiety. And for those females who do experience psychological illness, perhaps the relationships between mental illness and pregnancy are obvious. As already mentioned, if a young girl has experienced childhood sexual abuse, she might be more prone to be sexually active, and in turn, get pregnant. Also, those teens who have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and who experience periods of depression and mania might be more sexually active during their manic periods. Also, teens who have a mental illness might be more prone to drug use, which also increases the likelihood of sexual activity.
Despite these obvious connections, the recent study was significant. It can facilitate the understanding of parents, teachers, school counselors, and therapists who can focus on the prevention of pregnancy, specifically with those female adolescents who have a mental illness. Furthermore, the study emphasizes the greater risks of teens that have a mental illness and remind caregivers to address those risks as best as possible.
Vigod, S. (February 10, 2014). Fertility Rate Trends Among Adolescent Girls with Major Mental Illness: A Population Based Study. Pediatrics Vol. 133 No. 3 March 1, 2014 pp. e585 -e591