Seleni Hosts Roundtable on Supporting the Mental Health of Teen Parents

Representatives from 15 organizations gathered to talk about how to meet the emotional health needs of young parents

by Jennifer Dembo, CCE, CD (DONA)
July 18, 2017

As a doula, childbirth educator, counselor, and mother, I know the following to be true: Parenthood is challenging, even under the best circumstances. You can have a planned pregnancy, be financially stable, and have a strong network of support, yet hormones still flood your system, and exhaustion still happens. There is little sleep, endless baby laundry, and more. You've just bought a one-way ticket to the Land of Parenting, a place of indescribable joy, grand incompetence, and everything in between.

Now imagine taking that trip as a teenager. Your educational goals and social life must be altered, if not put on hold or sacrificed altogether. It's likely you will experience judgment, scorn, and even rejection from your partner, relatives, friends, educators, and spiritual leaders – the same people you've always depended on. You may also struggle to meet your most basic needs of housing and enough food. What is often a time to focus on youthful hopes and dreams is now filled with very grown-up demands and accountability – not only for yourself but also for your baby.

And besides all the usual emotional challenges of parenthood, young mothers face additional mental health difficulties: Up to 1 in 3 expectant teens have been diagnosed with a mental illness prior to conception, and early research suggests that mothers between ages 15 and 19 may have a higher risk of postpartum depression (one of several perinatal mood and anxiety disorders).

The bottom line for young parents and their babies is that they need – and deserve – a great deal of continuous support specific to their needs, but often they do not receive it.

And we know that when young moms and dads do receive this care and support, they improve their odds of being able to parent on solid footing. Services designed to meet their specific needs can be a springboard to success as young mothers and fathers learn to take pride in their parenting, in their children, and in themselves. In turn, this helps them create or re-establish educational objectives, career plans, healthy relationships, and general well-being.

At Seleni, we acknowledge that every parent deserves the encouragement and support necessary to build a strong foundation, no matter when they start their family. We offer free individual talk therapy (for up to one year) and complimentary bimonthly workshops to young parents ages 14 to 24. As the manager of Seleni's programming for young parents, I am honored to work with these amazing, resilient young adults who are eager to learn all they can about becoming good parents and caring for themselves.

Now, thanks to a generous grant from the hope and grace initiative, we are able to offer a customized version of our Maternal Mental Health Initiative clinical training program – at no cost – to professionals who provide care and services to pregnant and parenting teens.

To kick off our MMHI4teens program, we hosted a young parent roundtable discussion in our offices last month. A diverse group of more 25 psychologists, social workers, educators, administrators, teen advocates, and lactation specialists packed our conference room to connect, share information, and generate strategies about how to support young parents best. Attendees represented various organizations, including transitional housing agencies, universities, hospitals, birth collectives, and community health centers.

As a group, we identified the greatest challenges facing teen and young parents today, such as access to affordable housing, trauma, and the lack of resources as well as limited awareness about the resources that do exist. We also identified areas where community supports exist for teen parents and where they are scarce.

The conversation was rich, engaging, and instructive. We decided as a group to consolidate knowledge and resources into two borough-specific lists – one for providers and one for young parents. We are also establishing partnerships that will lead to onsite MMHI4Teens trainings around the city and putting together an advisory board that will enable us to continue this important conversation.

Helping young parents is just one of the many ways we at Seleni aim to destigmatize mental health issues and provide a safe, nonjudgmental haven for anyone who needs a little extra help during their childbearing years. And what parent hasn't needed just that at some point along the way?

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Jennifer Dembo, CCE, CD (DONA)

Jen Dembo, CCE, CD (DONA) is a certified labor support doula and childbirth educator. She has worked with pregnant women and their families since 2004, attending more than 100 births throughout New York City and the tri-state area in home, birth center, and hospital settings. Ms. Dembo's holistic approach focuses on the physical, emotional, cultural, and medical factors that influence a woman around the beginning of motherhood. She recognizes that every family is unique and honors various perspectives on pregnancy, adoption, assisted reproduction, surrogacy, and childbirth. Ms. Dembo's mission is to inform women about their many prenatal, childbirth, and postpartum options and to promote self-advocacy in regard to personal needs and preferences.

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