An unplanned teenage pregnancy can change the course of a young woman's life. It puts her in a position where she is responsible not only for herself but also for the life of another human being.
Teen moms have to deal with adolescence and adjust to the responsibilities and demads of parenting all at once. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, these are the reasons why they are twice as likely to develop mental health problems, prenatally or postpartum, than older mothers.
The high teenage pregnancy cases in the Philippines
Teenage pregnancy in the country has declined to 8.7 percent in 2017 from 10.2 percent in 2016. Still, the number remains high, says the Commission on Population (POPCOM).
The University of the Philippines Population Institute also acknowledged that young Filipinos have limited access to sex education and adolescent sexual and reproductive health services, espescially if they are underage and unmarried.
The result: only 15.60% of Filipinos aged 18 to 30 years old have always used protection during sex according to the 2nd PhilCare Wellness Index, a nationwide study that looks on the health and wellness practices of Filipinos.
Currently, the government is trying to dig into this matter as well. A bill promoting teen moms' physical, intellectual, and social wellbeing is now being pushed in the senate. This bill could help young moms stay mentally sound once passed.
The consequences of early parenthood on mental health
Early parenthood may bring these mental health conditions: escalated suicidal ideation, mood disorder (depression or bipolar disorder), baby blues (symptoms: mood swings, anxiety, sadness, overwhelm, difficulty concentrating, sleeping and eating problems) and postpartum depression.
Aside from a lack of financial and emotional support, researchers have pointed out that another reason why most teen moms develop mental health problems is due to bad relationships with family, environment or partners.
This is true for 31-years-old, Mary Grace Guapo Espinoza.
Mary Grace was 18 years old when she conceived her daughter, Chai. By the time she got pregnant, Mary Grace's partner, unfortunately, didn't want to take responsibility for the child. These circumstances overwhelmed Mary Grace and she eventually developed depression days after giving birth.
"I was depressed, I was crying a lot, very anxious and worried. I felt so insecure and I couldn't trust my family's words of encouragement and wisdom", said Mary Grace.
At the time, she was driven by her spiraling negative thoughts. She would sometimes blame her baby for her "misfortunes".
"I felt that the whole world had fallen on me. I was sad because I had everything to lose -- my scholarship, the dream of having my own family -- not a broken one. I was afraid of raising a premature child and being a single mom for the rest of my life", she recalled.
"I started to flinch and be annoyed every time she [Chai] approaches me. May times na, I know I miss her pero paglalapit na siya, I don't want to look at her. I was mad at her for every little thing she did", she added.
This went on until Chai turned 3. It was then that Mary Grace finally to fix their relationship and started paying more attention to her child.
Mental health concerns after giving birth
Mary Grace chose to fight her battle alone even with limited knowledge of depression. Luckily, she was a nursing student at the time and had access to information about her condition through her classes.
She focused on getting rid of her negative thoughts first through constantly going to church, praying and spending more time with her daughter. Only then was she able to finally appreciate and recognize the love and support of her loved ones -- and be relieved from depression.
Experts agree that just like what Mary Grace did, awareness of postpartum mental health risks and accepting support from others really do help in relieving the stress and pressure of becoming a new mom.
Other expert-prescribed ways to take care of mental health postpartum are: