Teen Depression. Why Is It Increasing, Especially Among Girls?

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With so much attention focused on the crisis of the day whether it is the heroin epidemic or random shooting striking our teens, there remains one dangerous trend that society can’t afford to ignore–teen depression–which is quietly spiraling out-of-control.

There’s a staggering rise in teen depression in the United States. In 2015, the National Institute of Mental Health, reported that an estimated 3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 12.5% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17. That is 1 out of every 8 teenagers who have had a major depressive episode.

Another study, published by the Journal of Pediatrics in 2016, found that the prevalence of teens who reported a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) in the previous 12 months jumped from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.5% in 2014. That’s a 37 percent increase in 9 years!!!

What Is An MDE?

An MDE is defined as a period of at least two weeks of low mood that is present in most situations. Symptoms include low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, and problems with sleep, energy and concentration.

Teen Girls Affected More By Depression

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, rates of depression among girls ages 12-17 in 2015 were more than twice that of boys. In the U.S. 19.5% of girls experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year, versus 5.8% of the boys.

Why are teen girls more prone to depression?

While anxiety and depression occur in both genders, by the teenage years, girls are much more at risk than boys. The wide disparity between teen girls and boys who suffer from depression can be traced to the difference in brain development between the two genders.

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Before puberty, the prevalence of mood disorders such as depression is about the same between boys and girls. But by mid-adolescence girls are more than three times as likely to be diagnosed with a mood disorder as boys.

So why is there such a wide disparity in mood disorders? Are teen boys mentally tougher than girls? Not by a long shot. It is all about how their brains process emotional stimuli.

In an article, Mood Disorders and Teenage Girls, published on the Child Mind Institute, girls develop, in terms of their emotional recognition, faster than boys—and that sensitivity could make them more immune to depression and anxiety.

According to another article, Teen Girls Have Tougher Time, published on WebMD, teenage girls encounter more stressors in life,especially in their interpersonal relationship than compared to boys--and they react more strongly to those pressures, accounting in part for their higher levels of depression, the study suggests.

Cyber Bullying More Prevalent Among Teen Girls

In the Pediatrics study, researchers suggest that adolescent girls may be more exposed to risk factors causing depression like cyber-bullying. They point to research that indicates that cyber-bullying is much more common among girls than boys. Some studies show that girls use mobile phones with texting applications like Snapchat and Instagram more frequently and intensively than boys. And, problematic mobile phone use in this age group has been linked to depressed mood.

School counselors see evidence that technology and online bullying, particularly among girls, are affecting their mental health as early as fifth grade. Some of the negative consequences attributed from bullying induced depression can range from teens refusing to go to school to cutting themselves.

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What Can Be Done To Counteract Depression?

Like many teen issues such as drug abuse--a strong parent-child relationship can help prevent depression. The Mayo Clinic suggests the following positive relationship-driven actions and activities:

  • Set aside time each day to talk

  • Encourage your child to express his or her feelings

  • Praise his or her strengths, whether it's in academics, music, athletics, relationships or other areas

  • Offer positive feedback when you notice positive behavior

  • Respond to your child's anger with calm reassurance rather than aggression

  • If your child is reluctant to talk, spend time in the same room. Even if you're not talking, a caring attitude can speak volumes

Additional strategies to defeat teen depression before it manifests in a teen include: fostering friendships, encouraging physical activity, promoting good sleep, monitoring television and Internet usage, and seeking help early on to give your child the resources and tools to manage their emotions.

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After the Journal of Pediatrics recently published their alarming report about the continued increase in teen depression, there can be no more excuses for inaction. If teen depression is left untreated like so many other public health catastrophes in the past when first discovered, the consequences could be catastrophic. What can you do to help prevent depression from continuing to rise?