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Teen girls are significantly more likely to be depressed than boys

Feb 13, 2017

Do you remember what it was like being a teenager? You had to deal with hormone and body changes. It felt like no one understood you and you may have had trouble understanding your own feelings.

Being a teenager can be tough. But it can be even harder when a child is dealing with depression.

I heard a story on Morning Edition Monday about the significant rise in rates of depression among adolescents 12 to 17 years old between 2005 and 2014.

But the largest increase was among teen girls, who were three times more likely than boys to experience major depressive episodes, according to a recent study in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers analyzed data from an annual survey, the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health. There was an uptick in depression rates in 2011 and more pronounced increases in 2012 and 2013, according to the study. Authors attributed the trend, in large part, to the increasing use of social media.

“Girls, in particular, are more likely to use these new means of communication, so they may be exposed to more cyberbullying or other negative effects of this latest social media,” study co-author and psychiatrist Ramin Mojtabai, told NPR.

Time spent on social media can leave girls comparing themselves to others and seeking validation in the form of likes and tags on platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

So, how can parents help reduce the risk of depression in teens? Although the parental impulse may be to restrict the use of cell phones or computers, that may make things worse for some adolescents, lead author Benjamin Shain told The New York Times.

They tend to find parent restriction of social media actually more traumatic than whatever the event was. That’s how they connect to their peer group, that’s how they get their support, that’s how they have a conversation with their group; you take this away and then you have a very isolated child.

Instead, Shain says, parents should have conversations with their kids, spending 90% of the time listening and the other 10% of the time helping their child problem solve.

It's also important to keep an eye out for signs of depression, including mood changes, withdrawal from friends and family, a loss of interest in things they once enjoyed, and changes in eating and sleeping patterns. Shain said:

It could be depression, could be drugs, could be simply that their schoolwork is too hard. The first step is sit and have a conversation with your child — what’s going on — the next step could be talk with teachers or bring your child to a counselor or psychiatrist.

You can listen to the full story from Morning Edition here.

If you or someone you know shows the warning signs of suicide, seek help as soon as possible by contacting a medical or mental health professional, or by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).