Women Deliver 2023: Why young mothers’ mental health matters
Written by Faith k Nassozi, Communications Advisor
Over 6,000 people met in Kigali, Rwanda, for the Women Deliver conference last week with the aim of advancing gender equality and reproductive health. UnitedGMH joined partners Being, Fondation Botnar, and Grand Challenges Canada to organise a session on the significant yet often ignored subject of the mental health of young mothers.
Speakers shared personal experiences and the work of their organisations, highlighting the efforts being made to support these women.
Integrating Mental Health into Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) programmes is a vital step
Pregnancy and motherhood are transformative experiences that can evoke a whirlwind of emotions. Young mothers are at the highest risk of developing pre and postpartum depression, especially in low and middle-income countries. This impacts them and their children. The transition to motherhood, coupled with socio-economic challenges and limited access to mental health services, makes this demographic vulnerable to mental health issues.
Given this context, panellist Esther Mamba, a representative from Mothers 2 Mothers (M2M) South Africa, emphasised the significance of incorporating mental health elements into established SRH programs. She highlighted that M2M gave her an opportunity to empower other young mothers, particularly those who are HIV positive, through the ‘Children and Adolescents are My Priority’ project (CHAMP), which has a teen mom program. The program creates a safe space for young mothers to talk about the challenges they face as young mothers and try to find solutions together. “It’s important that we recognize young mothers, and we need to listen to what they have to say.” Mamba.
Community support systems and peer networks offering counselling, such as the ones implemented by M2M, can serve as invaluable sources of solace and understanding, helping young mothers navigate the emotional complexities of motherhood. Such initiatives normalise discussions on mental health within the context of SRH initiatives, ensuring that young mothers have access to sufficient resources and support, enabling them to cope with the emotional demands of motherhood.
Empowering Youth in Decision-Making
It is important to create spaces for young people to be part of the decision-making process and enhance mental health, for example, through the Being initiative. Aline Cossy-Gantner from Foundation Botnar highlighted that “The Being initiative is an international mental health initiative working toward a world where young people feel well and thrive. It is creating space for young people to be part of the decision-making process and enhance mental health.” Cossy-Gantner.
Hauwa Ojeifo from She Writes Woman Nigeria added that her project is focused on empowering individuals, particularly young people facing mental health issues, by equipping them with the skills to speak about their experiences in a way that fosters empowerment and self-perception transformation. “We are using stories and putting people with lived experience at the forefront of telling stories.” Ojeifo.
During the conference, the Fondation Botnar, Rising Minds Radio, and the Girls Global Media Initiative provided platforms for youth advocates and panellists from our session to discuss youth mental health and make recommendations for initiatives and policies that cater to the unique needs of young mothers.
Integration of mental health into HIV programs
With mental health now meaningfully part of the Global Fund’s new five-year strategy, Marijke Wijnroks from The Global Fund stated that Individuals experiencing depression exhibit decreased rates of Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) retention. “The Global Fund implements various initiatives in different countries, such as peer support programs, mothers-to-mothers initiatives, and stigma and discrimination programs, to address this issue. We have provided guidance on what mental health programming can look like at a primary health level, including the development of training materials.” Wijnroks.
The severity of SRH problems, such as an unintended or early pregnancy and HIV, has a major adverse effect on a young person’s general wellbeing, particularly young mothers and their children. Now is the time to integrate mental health education and literacy into established SRH programs. We are glad that, working with our partners, we were able to ensure the Women Deliver conference provided platforms to advocate for collective action from governments, healthcare providers (both public and CSOs), international health agencies, and foundations to invest in mental health initiatives tailored to the specific needs of young mothers.