Teenage girls experience depression at a rate almost three times that of boys their age. Before the age of 12, the rate of depression in boys and girls is about equal, but between the ages of 12 and 15, when puberty hits, the percentage of girls with depression triples. While there is still lots to learn about the gendered differences in depression, both biological and psychosocial factors may explain why more girls experience depression than boys. Brain scans show that girls process emotions differently than boys. These structural brain differences, combined with heightened social pressure and hormonal changes, may leave girls more vulnerable to depression.
Not only do more girls experience depression at a greater rate than boys, but studies show that they experience some symptoms of depression slightly differently too. Boys and girls express most of the classic symptoms of depression like withdrawal, enduring sad moods, and sleep and appetite changes similarly. However, depressed girls tend to experience stronger feelings of guilt, self-blame, and failure than boys. Teen girls also feel the added weight of body image dissatisfaction, and are at a higher risk for developing eating disorders. Depressed girls may notice more trouble concentration problems and sleep problems than depressed boys as well.
Depressed boys experience more anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure from activities once found enjoyable, such as exercise, hobbies, music, or social interactions. Boys also have more depressed moods in the morning and experience more intense morning fatigue than girls. Some teenage boys may express more irritation than withdrawal, acting out and putting themselves in dangerous situations, like fighting.
Since major depression disorder is so internal, a depressed mood that lasts longer than 2 weeks, withdrawal, and changes in sleeping and eating habits are some of the outward signs of depression to look out for in both girls and boys. If you think your child may be suffering from depression, remember it’s your job to understand them, not fix them. Be ready to listen without judgement and gently guide them to find a treatment that works for them.