March 3, 2008 / 9:28 PM / 12 years ago

Depression, pregnancy linked among US black teens

By Michael Conlon

CHICAGO, March 3 (Reuters) - Black American adolescents who suffer depression after giving birth run a higher risk of becoming pregnant again soon after than those who are not depressed, researchers reported on Monday.

It may be that depression causes feelings of fatigue and helplessness that lead to less use of birth control methods, or that emotionally distressed teen mothers "seek out intimacy with additional sexual relationships," Dr. Beth Barnet and colleagues at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore reported.

Depression is a problem for both white and black teenage mothers, who in general are twice as likely as adult mothers to become depressed, the report said. And it also noted that previous research has found that black adolescent mothers suffer from depression at twice the rate of their white counterparts.

The racial disparity "is probably associated with poverty," Barnet said in an interview, as studies have shown that depression is higher in general among lower socioeconomic groups.

Exposure to violence and a drug culture in the group studied are also a factor, she said.

The findings were based on 245 mostly black young women aged 12 to 18 from low-income families who received prenatal care at five community centers.

Forty-six percent showed symptoms of depression at the beginning of the study, Barnet’s team reported in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Overall in the group, 120 had another pregnancy within two years of having given birth, and the average time between pregnancies was a little over 11 months.

"Teens having a subsequent pregnancy were more likely to be school dropouts; not use condoms consistently at followup; and report a relationship with their baby’s father, who tended to be older," the study said.

For 112 youngsters showing symptoms of depression when the study started, the risk of a subsequent pregnancy was 40 percent higher than for for those who were not depressed.

"This study provides evidence that depression may be an important independent risk factor for rapid subsequent pregnancy in African American adolescent mothers," the study concluded.

"Depression is unhealthy for mothers and their children. Treating (it) improves the health and well-being of both," the researchers wrote. (Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Beech)

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