Every year, the Hogg Foundation gives the Frances Fowler Wallace Memorial Award for Mental Health Dissertation Research to eligible doctoral candidates at The University of Texas at Austin. Awardees receive a scholarship to help cover research-related expenses.
Hogg sat down with a recent recipient, Pamela Recto, who is a doctorate student at the School of Nursing. Her research proposal is titled “Mental Health Literacy of Mexican-American Adolescents: Examining their Knowledge and Attitudes about Perinatal Depression.”
Hogg: What are you trying to accomplish with your research, and what implications do you hope it will have for those living with perinatal depression?
Recto: My goal is to identify contextual factors that impede or facilitate help-seeking and recognition of perinatal depression. My findings may potentially guide practice and research in developing more effective, culturally relevant interventions, with an emphasis on mental health literacy.
Hogg: How did your academic and professional nursing experiences inform your decision to research this topic?
As a registered nurse and previous clinical faculty residing in South-Central Texas, I have served diverse populations—particularly, Mexican-Americans. My experience as a maternal-child nurse deepened my understanding and desire to advocate for young mothers.
During my time as clinical faculty, a fellow colleague and I piloted a wellness program at an alternative high-school for parenting and pregnant adolescents. Our students and I gained an appreciation of the day-to-day challenges faced by adolescent mothers and acquired a broader understanding of their health care needs. It was through this experience that I gained considerable interest in mental health literacy among Mexican-American adolescents.
Hogg: In your view, what is mental health literacy and why is it essential?
Mental health literacy is an individual’s knowledge and beliefs about mental health disorders. It is an important component of promoting positive maternal health outcomes because it empowers the mother to not only gain knowledge, but also seek assistance and early treatment.
Adolescent mothers are especially susceptible to perinatal depression because of the unique contextual factors they face. Examining their knowledge and beliefs will help identify gaps and facilitate services that would prevent or manage their depression.
Hogg: What barriers exist that prevent Mexican-American adolescents from increasing their mental health literacy?
Mexican-American adolescent mothers I have interviewed wish that health care providers would have given them information about depression during pregnancy. Supplying them with necessary information sooner rather than later would have facilitated help-seeking during the perinatal period.
Additionally, adolescent mothers were reluctant to discuss depression with health care providers because they did not make a concerted effort to establish rapport. They described health appointments as feeling rushed, and therefore hesitated to bring up mental health issues. As a result, most resorted to coping with depression on their own, or seeking advice from family members or peers.
Interestingly, these mothers emphasized a “double stigma” that comes from experiencing adolescent pregnancy and depression. They feared others would think they were incapable of taking care of themselves and their baby because of depression, especially if they were already being judged for having a baby at a young age.
Hogg: How will your research contribute to or improve the limited literature on pregnant and postpartum Mexican-American adolescents concerning perinatal depression?
Previous studies on perinatal depression have primarily focused on adult women, and only a few studies focused on Mexican-Americans. Cultural beliefs and values shape how individuals view mental health disorders, and I hope that my findings will elucidate how these factors influence Mexican-American adolescents’ perception of perinatal depression and help-seeking.
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