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Mental health problems ‘shockingly high’ in young pregnant women

Over two thirds of pregnant women in London aged 16 to 24 have a mental health problem, according to research funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

Researchers at King’s College London surveyed 575 women within an inner-city London maternity service and found 67% of pregnant young women (aged 16-24) experienced some kind of mental health problem, including depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

This compares with 21% of pregnant women over the age of 25.

The study, published in BJPsych Open, also reported that living alone and experience of abuse were particular risk factors for mental health problems among people under the age of 25.

Lead author Dr Georgia Lockwood Estrin, senior research associate at King’s College London, said the study found a ‘shockingly high prevalence’ of mental disorders among young pregnant women.

She said: ‘We found that, in comparison to previous research [which] has focused primarily on postnatal depression, young women experience a broad range of mental disorders during early pregnancy, with anxiety disorders being particularly prevalent.'

The authors have called on the NHS to target resources to women under 25 years old, including those in their 20s, to try to ‘minimise adverse outcomes’.

Senior author on the paper, Professor Louise Howard, said: ‘This study needs to be repeated as it is based on relatively small numbers of women in a particular area of London, but our findings highlight the need for maternity services to ensure pregnant women under 25 are comprehensively assessed for mental health problems and domestic or sexual abuse so they can receive appropriate treatment and help.’

Readers' comments (2)

  • 'Living alone is a risk factor'
    Maybe the old-fashioned route of engaged/married/set up house/ensure relationship and financial stability/get pregnant/have child might be an alternative answer. Another example of the medicalisation of societal/relationship issues.

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  • life is stressful but your ability to cope gets better as you get older, not sure this actually tells you anything - does it actually lead to adverse behaviour or effect on society? 100 years ago women were terrified of pregnancy because your chances of dying in childbirth were quite high and even if you survived your child may not. women survived, carried on, got the vote, medicine improved, the wheel turns. better to be pregnant in the uk now than in say war torn Syria. focus on the positives and people will feel positive and vice versa. pregnant women are lucky to have access to free health care in this country. most women in the world do not.

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