Young girls and women are twice as likely to receive depression diagnosis

  • Teens who are experiencing depression may show changes in mood, such as an increase in feelings of sadness, irritability, and anger.

    Teens who are experiencing depression may show changes in mood, such as an increase in feelings of sadness, irritability, and anger. Getty Images

  • Dr. Gabrielle Roberts

    Dr. Gabrielle Roberts

By Dr. Gabrielle Roberts
Advocate Health
Posted10/6/2019 7:20 AM

Prior to puberty, the prevalence of depression in boys and girls is similar, but once they reach adolescence, girls are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with the condition.

What causes this disparity is not yet clear and is likely due to many different factors. One possible culprit is puberty.


On average, girls experience puberty, and the accompanying hormonal changes, much earlier than boys. Physical changes can prompt questions about sexual identity; affect peer relationships; and may leave girls more open to body image concerns or bullying related to physical appearance.

Also, despite advancements, young females still experience a different -- and, at times, more challenging -- social landscape than their male counterparts, and this disparity may also play a role in the development of emotional problems.

Teens who are experiencing depression may show changes in mood, such as an increase in feelings of sadness, irritability, and anger.

They may be more down on themselves, express more guilt and hopelessness, and may no longer seem to have fun with activities they one enjoyed.

Common symptoms of depression in teens also include withdrawing from others; fatigue; changes in appetite; disturbances in sleep; poor motivation; a decline in academic performance; and difficulty with concentration. Suicidal thoughts or self-injurious behaviors can also be very serious signs of depression.

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Screening for depression at annual doctor's appointments can be very helpful in identifying teens who may be in need of intervention.

While it is common for teens to have mood swings and stressful times, symptoms persisting beyond a couple of weeks could indicate something more. When in doubt, parents should err on the side of caution. It is never a waste of time to give a child a mental health checkup.

5 things to know about teens and depression

• Breaking news for us is often old news for them. Teenagers are skilled at hiding many things about their lives, which is part of the developmental task of becoming independent. Often teens approach parents about emotional problems after they have failed to solve the problem on their own.

• Your child can smile and laugh with friends and still be depressed. Being depressed doesn't mean a teen never experiences happy moments and teens are often happiest with their friends. Still, many depressed teens report that although they seem happy when with their peers, they are actually struggling to maintain that appearance.

• Sometimes there is no good explanation for the existence of depression. There are many reasons why individuals might become depressed, including biological tendencies and hormones. This can confuse teens, who fail to understand why they feel so sad, and parents, who might put the blame on themselves.


• Depression is treatable. Just because your child is depressed now, does not mean that he or she will be dealing with this forever. While some people do struggle with depression throughout their lives, others might experience depression during these tumultuous teen years and then never again. Either way, treatment is available.

• "Is it depression or attention seeking?" It doesn't really matter. If a teen chooses to seek attention by "acting depressed," there is reason to intervene. Someone who chooses to seek attention by identifying as depressed may truly be struggling and may be at risk of making unsafe or harmful choices. In either case, attention is warranted.

Parents who have concerns about a child's emotional well-being should speak with the child's pediatrician, school social worker, or schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. In the case of serious or life threatening behavior, such as thoughts about suicide or self-harm, parents should call 911 or take the child to the emergency room.

• Children's health is an ongoing series. This week's article is courtesy of Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, a pediatric psychologist at Advocate Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn.

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