08:39pm Sunday 29 March 2020

Women who marry as children at greater risk for mental illness

The study is published in the current issue of Pediatrics.

In the first study of its kind, scientists looked at statistics from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions conducted in the United States and found significant mental health trends common among American women who were married before the age of 18.

“We found that the level of lifetime mental disorders among women married as children is much higher than for women married as adults,” said Dr. Yann Le Strat, an Adjunct Scientist with CAMH and principal investigator on the study. “Being married as a child is associated with a 41 per cent increase in the prevalence of psychiatric disorder.”

Almost nine per cent of females in the US were married before the age of 18.

According to data, 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.

Though the study is based on US data, this research also holds implications for 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 Dr. Le Strat.

“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,” said Dr. Bernard Le Foll, co-author and a clinician scientist with CAMH. “Our research may help governments deliver mental health services, and could help inform debate around marriage legislation.”

Mood and anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental illness problems, and are 1.5 times more prevalent amongst women than men. They can usually be successfully managed with proper treatment ranging from prescription medication to cognitive behavioural therapy.

Media Contact: Michael Torres, Media Relations, CAMH; 416-595-6015


The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world’s leading research centres in the area of addiction and mental health. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues.

CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre.

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