It isn’t a teary topic fit only for moody young adult fiction and sudsy afternoon TV dramas: Depression afflicts as many as a third of girls, becoming a rising problem for some as early as age 11 and increasingly separating out as gender difference in the mental health between boys and girls.
The higher incidence of depression in girls—found in interview research with more than 100,000 young participants from 2009 to 2014 in the annual, statistically representative National Survey of Drug Use and Health—has raised concern among mental health experts. They note that depression can cause patients to struggle with relationships and school. It can lead some to suicide and may require sustained treatment for those with more serious cases.
Researchers could not explain why girls are more affected by depression, and they were surprised to find the earlier gender divergence, with it occurring at younger ages than had been tracked before. This tends to undercut existing psychological theories, they said, that depression in girls may be triggered by hormone changes or other significant life shifts that occur in their teens.
They estimated girls’ challenges with depression by asking standard questions about their sleeplessness, irritability, and feelings of guilt or lack of self-worth.
Mental health experts say it is important for parents, teachers, coaches, and young people themselves to recognize depression’s signs, including longer spans — two weeks or longer — of feeling low, guilty, worthless, and unable to enjoy normally pleasurable activities, while also suffering insomnia, irritability, and weight swings.
Depression in teens can be treated, and the researchers emphasized that early interventions—especially now that it is known that many girls can be affected quite young—can be important in preventing the worsening of the condition.
It is a rising woe for American teens, Time magazine has reported, writing that:
In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2 million report experiencing depression that impairs their daily function. About 30 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys—totaling 6.3 million teens—have had an anxiety disorder, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health. Experts suspect that these statistics are on the low end of what’s really happening, since many people do not seek help for anxiety and depression. A 2015 report from the Child Mind Institute found that only about 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment. It’s also hard to quantify behaviors related to depression and anxiety, like non-suicidal self-harm, because they are deliberately secretive.
Like many Americans, I was heartened that our country in the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, and the 21st Century Cures Act, finally recognized the major assistance and support that mental health desperately needs and deserves. That advance, a perhaps pragmatic recognition of the terrible toll our collective neglect has caused, may be reversed under the Trump Administration. This is unacceptable, and now especially for the sake of our daughters, grand-daughters, nieces, sisters, and cousins, we need to let our elected officials know that our nation needs to put a priority on mental health care.