Depression strikes teen girls earlier and more often

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Depression among teenagers is even more common than previous estimates—especially for girls—a new study suggests.

The findings show that the proportion of adolescents who experience depression is 36 percent for girls and 14 percent for boys—and that depressive episodes are associated with poor outcomes—including problems with school, relationships, and suicide attempts.

“Since we found that many more adolescents go through periods of depression than previously thought, it is important that we find ways to identify those individuals most likely to suffer the most severe consequences to make sure they are prioritized for treatment,” says Joshua Breslau, researcher at the RAND Corporation and lead author of the study in Translational Psychiatry.

Researchers examined data from 2009 to 2014 collected annually from nationally representative samples of adolescents ages 12 to 17. They noted gender differences in the incidence of depression by age and compared recent first-onset and persistent depression with respect to impairment, suicide attempts, conduct problems, and academic functioning.

Adolescent depression is characterized by extended periods of low mood or feeling unable to enjoy normally pleasurable activities. Other common symptoms include insomnia, irritability, weight gain or loss, and feelings of guilt or worthlessness. This national survey uses measures consistent with a diagnosis of depression.

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“Our study reveals that depression is far too common and is associated with serious problems in school and at home for adolescents,” says senior author Elizabeth Miller, director of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“While we still have much work to do to understand why so many more girls experience depression than boys, adults who work with young people—especially clinicians, school teachers, and counselors—should recognize adolescent depression and connect young people who display signs of depression to appropriate mental health services.

“Don’t wait and expect things to get better without help.”

The findings also show that the gender difference starts earlier than previous studies indicated; at least by age 11, if not younger, suggesting that factors in childhood also may contribute to the gender difference.

“Clinicians and those who work with children and youth in schools and afterschool environments need to be aware of the seriousness of any signs of adolescent depression and connect young people to treatment early,” Miller says.

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the Intramural Research Program of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development supported the work.

Source: University of Pittsburgh