Dear Dr. G.,
I just read that teen girls are much more likely than teen boys to show signs of depression. This worries me because I have a set of 13 year old fraternal twins and the girl looks like she may be a little sad. Her brother, on the other hand,is happy-go-lucky and nothing can ruin his day. The two of them came into the world differently. My son was an easy baby. He slept through the night at 3 months of age and was a good eater. My daughter was always fussy and hard to soothe.
My question to you is why teenage girls are more likely to get depressed than boys and if and when I should start worrying about my daughter. I eagerly await your reply.
A Worried Mom
You are right. According to new data recently released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, teenage girls suffer from depression at a rate that is nearly three times that of boys their age. As if that weren't bad enough- between the ages of 12 and 15 the percentage of girls struggling with depression triples.
Your question about why this is the case is excellent.
Although, we don't have any hard and fast answers I can speculate given my 20+ years of working one on one with both teen boys and girls. First, many girls have by the age of 12 begun to experience the onset of their periods. Along with this comes increased sensitivity, sometimes unpredictable mood fluctuations, and accompanying bodily changes. Boys,too, experience puberty and hormonal upheaval but they do not experience monthly bouts of sensitivity, irritability, and sometimes even physical discomfort and pain. I am not minimizing the effects of puberty on teen boys. Instead, I am highlighting why girls may be hit especially hard by puberty.
As girls approach the early teen years they begin to understand from various sources including media and peers how much their appearance is judged and valued by others.When they were younger there was clearly less emphasis on their attractiveness,appearance,and sexuality. Now, in their teen years, there is pressure for them not only to do well socially and academically but also to meet societal standards of what is considered both sexy and attractive. They experience all of these pressures within the context of monthly hormonal upheavals which may occur at regular or irregular intervals. Now, to me, the combination of these factors would seem to put our blossoming teen girls at risk for both increased stress and depression.
You express concern about your daughter and more specifically at what point you should become concerned about her mental health. Before I answer this question, I would like to highlight another important point that you alluded to. You mentioned that your son and daughter behaved differently from birth. This is true for individuals in general. We are all born with different temperamental styles. Some babies are calm, flexible, and easy to soothe from birth. Others dislike being cuddled and are very fussy. Although, individuals may retain some characteristics of their early temperamental style, people do change and temperaments may be modified based on the environment in which the individual is raised as well as by a host of other factors.
Okay, so back to your daughter. Watch her carefully. Ask yourself if you have noticed any significant changes in her appetite, sleeping habits, energy level, and academic, and/or social functioning. If you have then you should speak to her with empathy and calmly and ask her what she is feeling. Validate her feelings. Please don't tell her that she has nothing to be distressed about. She will experience that as invalidating.
If you are concerned that she may be depressed because she meets the criteria described above then get her to a therapist soon. The less entrenched the depression gets the easier it will be to treat. In therapy, she should learn coping skills and strategies that she will benefit from all throughout her life.
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