Depression, Self-Esteem, Loneliness, and Social Support among Adolescent Mothers Participating in the New Parents Project

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this pilot study was to examine levels of depression, self-esteem, loneliness, and social support, and the relationships between these variables, among adolescent mothers participating in the New Parents Project (formerly called the Young Parents Project). The sample consisted of 21 adolescent mothers recruited from three primary health care practices in different Midwestern cities. It was found that depression scores were in the high range (CES-DC [greater than] 15) for 53% of the participants. Strong, significant relationships were found, except between depression and self-esteem. The implications for enhancement of the New Parents Project, so as to better meet the psychological needs of adolescent mothers, are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

Approximately one million adolescents in the United States become pregnant each year (Porter, 1998). Early childbearing may have negative consequences for mothers and their children. Adolescent mothers, who frequently are unprepared for the responsibilities of parenthood, often live below the poverty level in disadvantaged environments and have higher levels of stress, less education, and fewer psychosocial resources than do women who delay childbearing (Miller & Moore, 1990). Adolescent mothers have been found to be more depressed, to experience more stress in the parenting role, and to be less positive about being a parent as compared with women who become mothers in their early twenties (Sommer et al., 1993). According to Censullo (1994), "early childbearing presents a developmental crisis for teenage parents, who must face the adult task of parenting before completing the developmental tasks of adolescence" (p. 326).

Because the needs of adolescent mothers are complex, programs designed to address psychological factors should be implemented. One technique that has demonstrated success with adolescent mothers is the New Parents Project, an innovative internet-based program that offers individualized health information and support.

The purpose of the present pilot study was to examine levels of depression, self-esteem, loneliness, and social support, and the relationships between these variables, among adolescent mothers participating in the New Parents Project. This will enable helping professionals to better understand the characteristics of this population, and provide insight into ways to enhance the New Parents Project.

Review of the Literature

The adolescent years are marked by many psychosocial changes. When these changes are complicated by pregnancy and parenthood, the results can be overwhelming for young women (Leonard, Piercy, & Van Meter, 1988). Four issues that adolescent mothers often confront are depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, and a need for social support.

Adolescent mothers are at greater risk for depressive symptomatology than are either older mothers or their peers who delay having children (Thomas, Rickel, Butler, & Montgomery, 1990). In Barnet, Joffe, Duggan, Wilson, and Repke's (1996) sample of 114 adolescent mothers, 36% had elevated depression scores at two months postpartum; at four months it was 32%. Hall (1990) found that depression was significantly related to maternal age, with younger mothers experiencing more depression as compared with older mothers. Unfortunately, depression may deter adolescent mothers from engaging in health-promoting behaviors, both for themselves and their infants (CombsOrme, 1993).

A challenging task is to develop a healthy sense of self. Hurlbut, Culp, Jambunathan, and Butler (1997) reported that adolescent childbearing was associated with lower self-esteem. Further, they noted that adolescent mothers' self-esteem was significantly related to parenting skills knowledge.

Researchers have asserted that loneliness is a more prevalent and serious problem among adolescents than any other age group (Brage, Meredith, & Woodward, 1993; Brennan, 1982; Medora & Woodward, 1986; Woodward, 1988; Woodward & Frank, 1988; Woodward & Kalyan-Masih, 1990). …