Puberty can be an emotional roller coaster. Just ask any parent who’s had the pleasure, and sometimes the pain, of rearing an adolescent. Or, just think back to when you were a youth! Teenagers-especially girls–are prone to mood swings that make them vulnerable to depression. . According to research reported in a 1999 issue of Child Development, girls and boys experience distinctly different patterns of stress during adolescence that may leave the former more open to depressed states of mind. It’s true that adolescent girls and boys experience the same amount of stress. However, the two sexes experience their tension in a different way. Teenage girls have a greater likelihood of stress in their relations with parents and friends, whereas the stress of their male counterparts is more likely to emerge from trouble in school or other factors outside their relationships with others.
“Because adolescent girls may be more invested than boys in their relationships as a source of emotional support and, perhaps, personal identity, interpersonal stress may be more salient and may act as a stronger threat to their well-being,” says Karen D. Rudolph, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois, Champaign.
Similarly, another study by researchers at the University of Michigan reports that by the time they reach 18, girls show twice the depression rate of boys, possibly because they worry more. This theory was demonstrated by the results of their survey of 615 sixth-, eighth- and tenth-graders in the San Francisco Bay Area. They found that girls worried more than boys on such issues as appearance, friends, personal problems, romantic relationships, problems with family, what kind of person they are, being liked by other children and being safe. The only issue that boys reported being more concerned about than girls was “sports and other activities.”
During adolescence, girls tend to lose self-confidence and self-worth and thus becoming less physically active, reducing school performance, and ignoring their own interests and dreams. At this time, girls are often encouraged to place more emphasis on their personalities, social skills, looks, and ability to please others, rather than developing as individuals. This is why girls in this particular age group can be easily confused by mixed messages and become susceptible to negative and risky behaviors such as substance abuse and sexual activity.
Often, the cause of this negative behavior is depression. As stated in the previous article, girls are much more prone to this illness than boys. The reasons for depression are not always clear-cut. Although some depressed, even suicidal, teenagers come from extremely troubled backgrounds with a lifetime of difficulties at home and at school, most of them are backed by resources, support,and love. They simply find, for a variety of reasons, that they’re feeling overwhelmed by a sensation of hopelessness and helplessness. It is crucial to understand that depression can happen to teenage girls who have everything going for them. It can affect the best and brightest of young people.
There are many reasons for depression in youth. These are just a few:
Depression in Parents: A teenager with one or both depressed parents has a higher risk of depression.
Social Stressors: The youth may be trying to fit into a certain social group, struggling with learning disabilities, having a growing awareness of homosexuality, or coping with the feelings that being a girl bring.
Family Crisis: Divorce and remarriage often lead to teenage depression. Financial stress and an illness of a family member are also stressors. Even though adolescents may appear removed from their family’s changing situation they actually remain very vulnerable to home-based problems and anxieties.
Family Dysfunction: In extreme cases, dysfunction refers to physical, verbal or sexual abuse. However, in the broader sense, it can relate to any disorderly pattern in the family structure (as when there is a family crisis, for example).
Parental High Expectations: Some parents place demands on their children that are almost impossible to meet. When parents convey that their love is based on achievements, the youth can have a number of emotional responses such as depression.
Significant Losses: Depression may be caused by the loss of a family member or the onset of a significant illness.
So how do parents know whether their daughter is just going through the usual ups and downs of adolescence instead of being depressed? Some of the warning signs include:
–Having difficulty falling asleep or wanting to sleep all day.
–Withdrawing from friends.
–Neglecting personal appearance or hygiene.
–Experiencing sadness, irritability or indifference for a long period of time.
–Having significant loss or gain in appetite.
–Performing poorly at school or getting into trouble.
–Showing feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
–Having unexplained aches and pains (even though nothing is physically wrong).
–Expressing thoughts of suicide.
Drug abuse, drinking and destructive behavior can also signal depression.
Depression can make a teenager feel alone, frightened and very unhappy. A depressed teenager probably has no idea what’s wrong with her–just that she feels terrible and not at all like her former self. As she begins to feel worse, she may think she has less power: She may feel unable to take control of her own mood and her own life, because something mysterious and painful is overwheling her. Some youth try to make the pain of depression go away by drinking or taking drugs, which only makes the depression worse. Still others contemplate suicide.
What action should parents take to respond to their daughter’s behavior change? The next and final article in this series will address some of the steps to take when an adolescent displays the warning signs of depression.