Toronto: A first-of-its-kind research examining trends in fertility rates among girls with mental illness finds that young girls with mental illness are three times more likely to become teenage parents than those without a major mental illness.

“The findings show that young girls are at high risk of pregnancy complications, including pre-term birth, poor fetal growth and postpartum depression,” said Simone Vigod, a psychiatrist at Women’s College Hospital and an adjunct scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) here.

“Add to this a pre-existing mental illness, and these young women are forced to manage significant additional challenges,” Vigod added.

Researchers examined live birth rates from 1999 to 2009 in 4.5 million girls, aged 15 to 19, in Ontario with and without a major mental health illness.

They found young girls with a major mental health illness – including depression, bipolar disorder and other psychotic disorders – were three times more likely to become teenage parents.

“Although we do know some of the risk factors behind why girls with mental health illness may be at increased risk of becoming pregnant, pregnancy prevention programmes in most developed countries have not traditionally considered mental health issues,” stresses Vigod.

Targeted school-based programmes are required along with greater integration of reproductive health care into adolescent mental health care programmes for such girls.

“Interventions that target and integrate reproductive and mental health care for young women are crucial to ensure we are providing the best care possible for adolescent mothers,” said Cindy-Lee Dennis, senior scientist at Women’s College Research Institute.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

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