According to a new study out this week, teen girls are more likely to suffer from depression than teen boys. Although that might seem like a given, since there has been a long recognized gender gap when it comes to mental health, this new study also suggests that depression is afflicting teens, regardless of their gender, even earlier than was previously thought. The study, published in Translational Psychiatry, found that 36 percent of girls have been or are depressed, as opposed to just 13 percent of their male peers.
The National Survey of Drug Use and Health study looked at 100,000 subjects from 2009 to 2014. According to The Washington Post, researchers asked subjects about "insomnia, irritability, and feelings of guilt or worthlessness" and were even able to tap into what's going on with children who haven't already been diagnosed as "depressed." Which means that kids who have never even thought or heard of a therapist were unwittingly reporting certain symptoms of depression.
The researchers went into the study already assuming, based on other research, that girls were more likely to be depressed than boys during the teen years. But they found that males and females diverge on mental health paths way earlier than was previously assumed. By 11 years old, girls are already more likely to report depressive symptoms than their male peers. Because of this early divergence, teen girls "have significantly higher levels of impairment for all domains and higher rates of suicide attempts," according to the study.
So what does this mean? It means that parents shouldn't brush aside any depressive symptoms in adolescents. The researchers wrote:
Contrary to prior studies, evidence suggests that the sex difference in depression originates during childhood and grows in magnitude during adolescence. High levels of impairment, suicide attempts, conduct problems and poor academic functioning argue against a 'wait and see' approach to clinical treatment of recent first-onset depression.
Symptoms of childhood depression include mood changes, lack of appetite, not engaging in things they used to find fun, and any acting out at school or in a social setting. If parents notice that those symptoms, among others, persist for more than two weeks, it might be time to call a pediatrician or find some other way to get a professional involved in monitoring and treating depressive behavior.
Girls could be experiencing depression more than boys because of socialization or any number of causes. Unfortunately, studies are still inconclusive as to why teen girls are more likely to suffer from depression. This new research just makes a case for getting children of any gender into care as soon as possible and not just assuming that a mood swing or certain behavior is a "phase."
Elizabeth Miller, director of the division of adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and an author of the study said:
When you are seeing young people with symptoms consistent with depression it is really much, much better to get them connected to a pediatrician to get them a comprehensive mental health assessment and hook them into treatment sooner rather than later.
There's a lot of social stigma around "overreacting" to a teen or child's moods. No one wants to be the hovering, helicopter adult. But this new research suggests that a lot of childhood depression might be going unchecked. If anything, there's evidence that more tweens and teens are experiencing depression way earlier than previously thought. Noticing the symptoms and talking about them as early as possible is the best solution for the time being.