It’s Not Just Moodiness: Young Teen Girls Have Increasing Rates Of Depression

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teen girl depressionTeen girls. Ever since I announced I was having a daughter, all anyone talked about was what I would do through her teen years. Sure, teen boys can be wild and crazy, but teen girls are emotional, hormonal messes who hate their mothers and can’t be understood by anyone. Or at least, that’s what we often make them out to be.

It’s easy, in the face of that seemingly impossible teen phase, to just ignore your child’s moodiness and occasional misbehavior. Parents tend to look at the years from 12 – 17 as something just “to get through.” If a teen girl isn’t talking to her mother and seems to be sulking around the house, would anyone really be surprised? Probably not.

However, as expected as emotional teenagers are, it doesn’t mean that parents should just try to “wait out” their kids’ depression. Mental illness in teens is real, and the numbers are pretty staggering. The 2008 to 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health tells us that between the ages of 12 and 15, the percentage of girls who reported experiencing a major depressive episode in the past year jumped from 5 to 15 percent respectively. It estimates that 1.4 million girls from the ages of 12 – 17 have suffered from depression in the last year. That’s three times the rate of their male peers, by the way.

More than anything, doctors and psychologists seem to agree that depression in girls is starting at a younger age than ever before. The biggest increase in cases was among young women 12 – 15. Unfortunately, most doctors don’t start looking for signs of depression until the later teen years.

There are plenty of theories as to why depression is starting earlier. The increasing pressure on young girls to grow up faster, to handle sexualization earlier - these stressors could play a real factor in younger girls battling bouts of depression. We put a lot of pressure on young people today to perform well. We get them involved in activities and hobbies early so that they can be proficient and competitive immediately. We think piling on extra-curriculars early will lead to better chances once college application time rolls around.

I’m sure we could come up with more reasons, but I don’t know if it matters either way. The truth, for any number of reasons, is that young girls are battling these issues, and they’re often battling them alone. If you don’t expect a teenager to talk to their parents, you don’t a middle schooler to talk coherently to anyone. And yes, 12-years-old means just 6th or 7th grade.

Parents need to be watching their little girls for signs of depression early. We shouldn’t be writing off that moodiness, we shouldn’t just accept that they don’t want to talk to us. Tami Benton, executive director of the department of child and adolescent psychiatry and behavioral science at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said, “Parents need to listen to their kids when they talk about things like bullying. We need to listen when our kids tell us they’re feeling down or sad, or if we see a decline in school functioning, appetite and social functioning.”

Let’s not just accept that teen girls are impossible to handle. Instead, we can continue to help our daughters through what is obviously a really difficult time in their lives.

(Photo: littleny/Shutterstock)