Teenage Pregnancy: Higher in Adolescents with Mental Illness

A recent study, published in the March issue of Pediatrics, shows that female adolescents who already have a mental illness are more likely to become pregnant than teenage girls without a mental health diagnosis. Also, although the number of teenage pregnancies has significantly decreased in recent years. They have not gone down with those adolescents who have a diagnosis. Although the study researched teens in Canada, the lead researcher in the study indicated that these trends are likely to be very similar in the United States.

Teenage Pregnancy

Certainly, teens who 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 decision. 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. Any form of abuse may lead to PTSD issues for teens. Read more here.


Yet, overall, the number of teen pregnancies in the United States has declined significantly over the last 20 years. 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. They are trying to prevent teenage pregnancy might focus on this specific adolescent population.

A Link

Of course, there are relationships between mental illness and teenage pregnancy that 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 between mental illness in female teens and teenage pregnancy, 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 who have a mental illness and remind caregivers to address those risks as best as possible.


Further Reading

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