Year: 2023 Source: Transcultural Psychiatry. (2023). SIEC No: 20230282

Teenage pregnancy rates in Uganda are among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Child marriage is often the result of unmarried teenage pregnancy and is recognised by Uganda’s government as a form of sexual violence and an outcome of inequality. However, unmarried motherhood incurs stigma and shame within traditionally living rural communities. Using co-produced Open Space and ethnographic methods, we examined the psychosocial impact of unmarried motherhood on girls and their communities, and explored problem-solving with key local stakeholders. Findings indicate that girls experience extreme stress, social exclusion and rejection by their families, and experience bereavement from school expulsion and the loss of their career aspirations. Depressive symptoms and suicidal behaviour are reportedly not uncommon among this population group. Community and family efforts to promote marriage for these mothers to avoid social stigma increased the mothers’ feelings of depression, whereas mothers who became independent appeared to fare better psychologically. Community members and local stakeholders demonstrated a willingness to act locally to reduce the negative impacts of unmarried motherhood but lacked knowledge and support resources. Our findings indicate that mental health promotion for teenage mothers is likely to be better served through empowerment strategies rather than marriage and, in a context of poor mental health service access, there is a substantial role for community mobilisation and the promotion of self-help strategies to support teenage mothers. This study raises important points regarding different community understandings of depression and indicates collaboration between professionals and communities for a values-based approach.