Mental Health Struggles Are Even Greater For Young Mothers

by Lindsay Wolf
Originally Published: 
Mother with new baby
Scary Mommy and JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty

It amazes me how many people in our society are obsessed with policing women’s bodies.

Case in point: we’ve got a president in office who devoted his 2016 election campaign to promising that he’d appoint Supreme Court justices to help him overturn Roe v. Wade. Then we have 27% of folks in our country who are passionately hoping he’ll be successful at it. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the U.S. state policies enacted to restrict abortions last year outweighed the policies in place to protect them. So basically, there are a whole lot of people – white men in particular – who are dead set on taking away a women’s right to choose without giving a flying fuck about what it will do to the women they’re oppressing.

As much fun as it is to force us to have babies, I have a wacky idea. Our society could totally keep waving a misogynistic wand over female bodily rights, or we could stop doing that and focus our time, energy, and resources on the mothers and babies out there who are already suffering immensely in our society. I can’t for the life of me understand why our country is so busy raging against our uteruses when there are women giving birth and being left completely unsupported. We have a devastating, and much less visible, national health crisis on our hands due to the infuriating lack of support for mothers, especially those who are under the age of 21.

If there was ever a cause actually worth championing that relates to the reproductive choices of women, our mental and physical health is it.

Research has more than proven that young mothers experience higher rates of depression during pregnancy and early parenthood than older moms or their non-pregnant peers. There are a slew of risk factors that lead many of these teens and young women to struggle with their mental health, like poverty, lack of education, limited social support, and childhood abuse. These obstacles can lead many of them to go without the care they so desperately need, which only makes living with maternal mental health struggles that much more isolating.

It is so isolating, in fact, that a study conducted in California suggests that suicide is one of the leading causes of death for new moms there.


The Journal of Adolescent Health also released evidence from a study done on Canadian women under the age of 21 who had just become mothers. Researchers discovered that nearly two out of three young moms reported to have had at least one mental health problem, with almost 40% revealing that they have two or more. According to the study, these women were also 2-4 times more likely than older mothers to have an anxiety disorder, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, or conduct disorder.

And it’s not just young moms who are suffering. Worldwide, up to 1 in 5 women experience some kind of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder in new motherhood, which means that as many as one-fifth of our world’s moms will inevitably struggle with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum bipolar, or postpartum psychosis. What’s worse is that 7 out of 10 women are hiding or minimizing their symptoms, due to societal stigma, shame, and lack of available support.

As if that weren’t enough, we are also seeing institutional racism and lack of adequate care leading black moms to experience a maternal mortality rate that’s three times higher than it is for white women. And don’t even get me started on the obscene societal pressure that all new moms face in our country once they’ve successfully birthed their kids, especially for the nine million women who are living as single mothers.

I could go on and on about the overwhelming odds stacked against women and moms in our country, but it’s bumming me out too much. Something’s got to give, people.

Why is none of this evidence as compelling as some people’s belief that a woman should be forced to stay pregnant when she doesn’t want to be? If we can’t even take care of the mothers who birth our country’s children, why would we ever pressure all women against their will to become mothers in the first place? We are a society filled to the brim with some persistent, loud, and aggressive pro-life politicians who want to take away our right to decide what to do when we experience a pregnancy. And yet once any of us choose to go forward with it, the societal system fails us again and again.

This is more messed up than words could ever articulate. We are quite literally damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

If you’re not willing to make motherhood a winning proposition in our country, then please stop pushing women to become moms in the first place. We deserve to have autonomy over our own fucking bodies, whether we choose to have children or not. We deserve to be given whatever help we may need to make new motherhood a transition that we not only survive, but thrive in. Mothers, no matter their race, identity, socioeconomic status, or age should have the right to receive maternal healthcare that’s inclusive, easily accessible, and supportive. And it is time to fucking end the damaging and life-threatening secrecy around mental health struggles for moms everywhere.

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