Is your daughter depressed? According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2011, 1.4 million girls ages 12-17 in the United States experienced an episode of depression. This number has increased in recent months. Fewer than half of adolescents with a mental health problem receive treatment. Parents often confuse depression in girls with “moodiness” or just being a teen. That’s not true: it’s a very real mental health disorder that can be deadly if left untreated. Low self-esteem in teenage girls isn’t just a phase; it’s often a sign of depression.
You can blame hormones, blame the media, blame whatever you want but don’t ignore the signs and causes of teenage depression. So many professionals and parents still don’t have the mental health awareness to see that teen depression is a big deal, especially in girls. The more people brush it off as “just part of being a teenage girl,” or say, “she’s just insecure,” the more dangerous it becomes.
Abby, a beautiful and bright 15-year-old came to see me with the intention of feeling “happy again.” This young woman has an IQ that’s almost Mensa worthy, achievements that will surely secure her a scholarship to any college, and at the time she came to see me, she wanted to end her life. This is scary stuff, most parents and professionals don’t see what girls are struggling with on the inside.
Facts About Depression in Teen Girls
A survey released by the World Health Organization (WHO) found depression to be the number one cause of illness and disability in adolescents worldwide. “The world has not paid enough attention to the health of adolescents,” says Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women and Children’s Health. “If adolescents with mental health problems get the care they need, this can prevent deaths and avoid suffering throughout life.” As parents and treatment providers, we need to begin to understand that typical teenage mood swings may actually be something far more serious.
Abby’s depressed mood and low self-esteem was minimized by professionals. Her pediatrician said it was “normal girl stuff.” Other professionals said it was “just a phase,” which certainly didn’t help her or her family find treatment. Abby’s story, sadly, isn’t unique. In the United States, fewer than half of adolescents with a mental health problem receive treatment.
Why Are Teen Girls Depressed?
Environmental stressors and the inability to handle them (their brains aren’t developed yet) are one piece to the depression in teen girls. Genetic predisposition and brain chemistry also play a significant. It could be that she’s been bullied and that caused depression to manifest. It could be that she has a family member at some point in time who too had depressive symptoms and that brought it on. The other possibility is the combination of certain biological predispositions which manifest themselves when met with a dysfunctional or invalidating environment.
Are You Invalidating Her?
An invalidating environment isn’t necessarily one in which a child is abused or neglected. Even the best parents can be invalidating, its not on purpose. Maybe it’s by paying attention to your emails or text messages when your daughter is talking to you, it may seem necessary but it feels invalidating. Many parents accidentally ignore or make light of something serious. Some even respond by ridiculing, denying, or judging a child’s feelings. “You’re not upset, you’re just being sensitive.” “Don’t feel bad, you’ve got other things to focus on.” These aren’t comments would make you feel good right? How do you think a teenager would feel?
Social media also plays a tremendous role on anxiety and depression. In a study conducted by Dr. Heather Cleland Woods and Holly Scott from the University of Glasgow in the UK, 467 teenagers between 11 – 17 years of age were given a questionnaire about anxiety, depression and self-esteem. According to her findings, Dr. Woods notes that teenagers who spend longer hours on social media suffer tremendously in the real world with their relationships and their self-esteem. Two hours or more can negatively impact self-esteem, encourages comparisons and self-loathing.
Could Your Teen be Struggling with Depression?
Depression in teen girls is often overlooked. Signs and symptoms include changes in your teen’s emotions and behavior. As observers, you are likely to notice if something is off or awry. If you have noticed that any of these are persistent or present themselves in your teen, don’t wait to get on the phone with your school’s counselor and ask for resources or for people in your area that treat teen girls. Head to a mental health professional or call your doctor.
Watch for changes in behavior, such as:
- Spending excess time alone, away from family and friends.
- Web searches for depression, suicide, or following social media handles that are provocative (pictures of self-harm, eating disorders, or suicidal topics).
- Conversations focus on hopelessness, (What’s the point?) or are predominantly self-loathing (I’m not good enough).
- Lack in confidence or ability; avoiding activities she used to enjoy or excel in; fearful of what others will think; speaks with self-doubt.
- Anxiety; unable to let go of thoughts, worries, or anxiety-driven behaviors.
- Inability to be alone with their own thoughts. You may notice that they have to constantly be connected to friends or strangers online, needing to be around people physically, or always be physically or virtually connected.
- Insomnia or sleeping too much.
- Inability to be away from social media, secrecy about what they are doing online (in communication with friends on phone or chats), sleeping with ones phone and needing to be connected digitally.
- Changes in appetite, such as decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain.
- Irritability or restlessness.
- Change in school performance, abrupt change in peer groups, or frequent absences from school.
To learn more about other signs and symptoms of teenage depression please visit the Mayo Clinic’s Article.
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is The Guidance Girl. Her goal is to help YOU become the most confident person you know! Emily is an award-winning author Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, Educational Speaker, and parenting consultant. She travels around the country educating girls, women, and parents. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.