Depression and Teen Girls

Warning Signs and What Parents Can Do

Could your teenage daughter be suffering from depression? If you have reason to be concerned, you may want to learn more about the startling incidence of depression in teenage girls.

Ten percent of teenage girls suffer at least one depressive episode per year, according to a University of Alberta - Canada study. The study, which analyzed data on more than 1,300 young men and women between the ages of 12 and 19, also found that the number of girls who admitted to a depressive episode within the last year was twice as high as the number of boys. Girls in their late teens (ages 16 to 19) appeared to be more prone to serious depressive episodes.

Head researcher Nancy Galambos, Ph.D., believes that hormonal turmoil and the social anxieties that come with adolescence combine to put teen girls at risk. "Problems with peers, difficulties in romantic relationships and family changes might occur in relatively short order and combine with the physical and hormonal changes of puberty to create vulnerability," Galambos notes.

A person may be suffering from a major depressive episode if he or she shows many of the following symptoms regularly for at least two weeks:

  • A sad, withdrawn mood
  • Weight loss or gain, accompanied by a disturbance in appetite (losing interest in food or eating more than usual)
  • Sleep disturbances (insomnia or too much sleep)
  • A change in general energy level (becoming very lethargic or very antsy)
  • Persistent fatigue and lack of motivation
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Frequent thoughts about death, which may include thoughts of killing oneself.

What Parents Can Do

If you believe your daughter or a teen acquaintance may be depressed, try these recommendations:

  • Talk to her. She may find it difficult to express such strong feelings of despair, but if you find out more about what she's feeling and why, you can help her more effectively.
  • Tell her she's not alone. A teen who is depressed usually feels sealed off from the world, trapped in silence. Reminding her that someone cares about her does not automatically make her feel better, but it does provide comfort.
  • Remind her that she won't always feel this way. It may seem obvious to you that people's moods change, but when a teen girl is depressed, her perspective narrows. She can see nothing but her sadness, and sometimes she believes that she will never stop hurting. Saying, "You won't always feel such pain. You'll eventually feel happier" can make a big difference.
  • Offer help. In addition to you, perhaps she could talk to a school counselor, a member of the clergy or someone from a local or national hotline - The Samariteens, for example, 800-252-8336.
  • Suggest treatment. Depressive episodes are fully treatable, usually through a combination of antidepressant drugs and short- or long-term counseling. A girl and her parents should always consult their primary health-care provider or a mental health professional to determine what treatment is best.

For further information, visit the National Institute of Mental Health online at www.nimh.nih.gov.

Elizabeth A. Allen is a former editorial assistant for Parenthood.com.

© Parenthood.com, used with permission.

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