The Mental Health of Young Canadian Mothers



      Although many young mothers (aged <21 years) are exposed to multiple adversities that increase their risk for mental illness, prevalence data are largely limited self-report questionnaires estimating only the prevalence of postpartum depression. Gaining a greater understanding of the burden of a broader range of common mental illnesses affecting these young women has the potential to improve their health as well as the development and functioning of their children.


      The Young Mothers Health Study recruited 450 mothers aged <21 years and 100 comparison mothers (aged >20 years old at first delivery) living in urban and rural central-west Ontario. Age-matched young mothers were also compared with 15- to 17-year-old women without children (N = 630) from the 2014 Ontario Child Health Study. The prevalence of current mental disorders was assessed using the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview for Children and Adolescents.


      Nearly 2 of 3 young mothers reported at least one mental health problem, and almost 40% had more than one. Young mothers were 2 to 4 times as likely to have an anxiety disorder (generalized anxiety disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social phobia, and specific phobia), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or conduct disorder and were 2 to 4 times more likely to have more than one psychiatric problem than older comparison mothers or women aged 15–17 years.


      Given the high rates of mental health problems and complex needs of young mothers in Canada and the possible adverse effects of maternal psychopathology on their children, further efforts should be directed at engaging and treating this high-risk group.


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