A new study discovers that that women who marry as adolescents have higher rates of lifetime mental illness than women who marry in adulthood.
Investigators reviewed statistics from the U.S. National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions and found significant mental health trends common among American women who were married before the age of 18.
The study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is published in the current issue of Pediatrics.
“We found that the level of lifetime mental disorders among women married as children is much higher than for women married as adults,” said psychiatrist Dr. Yann Le Strat, principal investigator on the study. “Being married as a child is associated with a 41 percent increase in the prevalence of psychiatric disorder.”
Almost nine percent of females in the US were married before the age of 18.
According to the study, the most common mental health problems among women who were married as children are mood and anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, bipolar disorder and depression.
Women who were married at a young age were also more likely to have a lower level of education and income, and come from rural areas of the United States. These women were also at higher risk for nicotine dependence.
Researchers believe the findings can be extrapolated to other countries where child marriage is more common and points to a possible global public health concern.
“In many developing countries, it is common for women to be married as children. In India, for example, about half of women are married before the age of 18,” said Le Strat.
According to Dr. Bernard Le Foll, co-author and a clinician scientist with CAMH, “We know that child marriage is associated with elevated risks of HIV transmission, unwanted pregnancy and death from childbirth. But while previous studies have looked at the physical health consequences of child marriage, the impact on mental health had never been studied before.
“Our research may help governments deliver mental health services, and could help inform debate around marriage legislation.”
Researchers discovered the mental health conditions mimic the general society as mood and anxiety disorders are common.
However, the prevalence of these disorders among the young women was 1.5 times that of men. Treatment intervention including prescription medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy were found to successfully manage the conditions.