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The Gender Gap: Why Is Depression in Girls So Much Higher Than in Boys?

The opportunities for young women are greater than they have ever been. Women are excelling in education, careers, and as public figures. At the same time, depression in girls is on the rise.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University found, “Between 2005 and 2014, rates of depression went up significantly. If extrapolated to all U.S. teens, it would work out to about a half million more depressed teens. What’s more, three-fourths of those depressed teens in the study were girls.”

Even with great advancements, the media portrays women in a negative light. “Girls are still continually bombarded by media messages, dominant culture, humor and even political figures about how they look—no matter how smart, gifted, or passionate they are.”

What Is Teen Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that “is severe enough that it interferes with the person’s ability to function in some way.”

Depression is hard to spot because there isn’t “one single definitive cause but rather several psychological, biological, and environmental risk factors.”

Risk factors include:

  • Biological: Reduced levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, and an imbalance of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. These are genetic factors.
  • Psychological: Low self-esteem, poor body image, self-critical, and feelings of helplessness. Teen girls experience these symptoms during puberty.
  • Environmental: Trauma, abuse, loss of a loved one, academic issues, victim of bullying, and rejection by friends and family.
Signs Of Depression In Girls

Depression in girls can be hard to spot. Many teens experience moodiness, anger, and have outbursts. It becomes serious when depressive symptoms last more than two weeks:

  • Feeling sad
  • Crying often
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Agitation, irritability, or anger
  • Fatigue/loss of energy
  • Isolation
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Poor school performance
  • Substance abuse
  • Risk-taking behaviors
Social Media And The Rise of Depression In Girls

One theory that explains why depression in girls is higher than in boys is the onset of social media. Teenage girls are more likely to communicate through online connections than boys. “Texting, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat—can exacerbate that harsh focus on looks and other judgments from peers.”

Teenage girls define themselves through “tags, likes, comments, Instagram photos, and Snapchat stories.” Social media is instantaneous, and teenage girls are more vulnerable to judgment. Having a diminished self-worth is a major factor of depression in girls.

depression in girls
Higher Depression In Girls Than In Boys

Girls are at a greater environmental risk for depression than their male counterparts. Studies have found that, “24% of 14-year-old girls and 9% of boys the same age have depression.” Also, “teenage girls face a huge range of pressures, including stress at school, body image issues, bullying, and the pressure created by social media.”

Another reason is that boys externalize stress while girls internalize. “Pubertal changes, negative thinking styles, low self-esteem, and some interpersonal factors are more common in girls.”

Girls also experience more interpersonal stress among their peers than boys. Girls “co-ruminate” with their friends, which is the tendency to over think problems. This helps to build relationships, but can also create harsh judgments among peers.

Toxic female teenage friendships are more prone to creating stress, anxiety, and depression.

What Can Parents Do To Help

Parents can help by implementing tech rules. “Teaching kids that their brain “on tech” needs a rest.” The whole family can “practice mindfulness, which teaches the value of solitude.” Mindfulness “calms the urge to constantly check the phone.”

To learn more about depression and mood disorders, click here