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Teens with Mental Health Problems More Likely to Get Pregnant, Study Finds

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A new study shows that girls with mental health issues are far more likely to get pregnant than those who do not suffer such problems.

The study was carried out by researchers at Women’s College Hospital and the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Sciences (ICES). They examined the fertility rates of approximately 4.5 million Ontario girls aged 15-19 over a ten-year period (1999-2009).

The researchers found that one in every 25 teenage mothers was experiencing some kind of mental health issue, such as bipolar disorder or psychosis. The study also showed that girls with mental health issues are three times more likely to get pregnant.

Furthermore, the study revealed that while the total number of teen pregnancies decreased between 1999 and 2009, this decline was not so visible among young women with mental health issues. While teen pregnancies declined by 22 per cent over that period, teen pregnancies involving women with mental health issues declined by only 14 per cent.

Dr. Simone Vigod, a Women’s College Hospital psychiatrist, says the report “clearly raises a red flag that we need more preventative education in schools, hospitals and other institutions that offer adolescent mental health services.”

Dr. Jean Wittenberg, director of infant psychiatry at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, was not a part of the study but welcomed its findings.

“It points to the vulnerability of the girls in this situation and it draws attention to the implications for the babies,” Wittenberg said. “I see many young girls with babies who turn their lives around, but there are also many who find it difficult to cope because of where they are developmentally.”

Cindy-Lee Dennis, a senior scientist at Women’s College Research Institute, says the key to preventing these pregnancies is to develop and implement programs that specifically target young women with mental health issues.

“Having these programs and offerings in place will … help reduce teenage pregnancy and improve the health of both mother and child,” Dennis said.

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