It's well understood that teenage mothers suffer a lot of psychological stress in their lives. But is that a cause or a symptom? A new research, rebutting previous theories on the subject, says that distress precedes the pregnancy, and does not stem from it.
"Psychological distress does not appear to be caused by teen childbearing, nor does it cause teen childbearing, except apparently among girls from poor households," said Stefanie Mollborn, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at the Institute of Behavioral Science of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The study has been published in the September issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
To reach the conclusion, researchers used data from two large long-term U.S. surveys that followed thousands of teen girls and women.
Participants responded to items on symptoms associated with depression, such as how often they found things that did not usually bother them to be bothersome, how easily they could shake off feeling blue or whether they had trouble concentrating.
The researchers did not use the term "depression," which is a clinical diagnosis.
Only the combination of poverty and existing distress was a good predictor of teen pregnancy.
"Psychologically distressed girls are at risk for teen childbearing and vice versa, even if the two things usually do not cause each other," Mollborn said.
"This could help educators and clinicians identify at-risk adolescents," Mollborn added.
Looking for symptoms of depression or distress should be part of normal health screening for all teenagers, said Diane Merritt, M.D., director of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
"Talking to teenagers about their sexuality and responsible behavior is key," she said.
ne of the best ways to prevent teen pregnancy is for teens to have long-term goals and good self-esteem, Merritt added.