Depression On The Rise For Teenage Girls

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This program originally broadcast on February 14, 2017.

Depression is up among teenage girls. We’ll look at the latest research and how to help.

In this Monday, Dec. 5, 2016 file photo, a 19-year-old transgender teen, who declined to be identified because she feared for her life after receiving death threats earlier in the year at a halfway house, poses for a photo in Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)
In this Monday, Dec. 5, 2016 file photo, a 19-year-old transgender teen, who declined to be identified because she feared for her life after receiving death threats earlier in the year at a halfway house, poses for a photo in Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)

Over the past decade, clinical depression is up among American adolescents and young adults.  American teens are feeling it. And especially teenage girls. Why? We’re asking today. Is it’s the times, or expectations, or fears? New social pressures? Social media? How can we recognize it? Help head it off? And when it really comes – depression, beyond the blues or a little teenage angst – what do we do about it? This hour On Point, combating teenage depression, and especially the challenges of girls. — Tom Ashbrook 


Catherine Steiner-Adair, clinical psychologist who works with girls and adolescents. Author of "The Big Disconnect." (@csteineradair)

Dr. Anne Glowinski, child psychiatrist and professor of child psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine, where she is also the director of education and training in child and adolescent psychiatry.

Dr. Mark Olfson, professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center, where he directs studies on the delivery of mental health services in community settings. Co-author of a national study on depression in adolescents and young adults.

Caller Meg: "It Just Kind Of Eats You Up"

Today’s show about adolescent depression stuck a nerve with listeners. Many of them called in to share personal experiences. One of those callers was Meg from Champaign, Illinois.

Meg, 25, told us about how she has struggled with depression since the age of 16. She was diagnosed during high school, when she attended a rigorous boarding school.

“I was surrounded by kids who were stressed out all the time,” Meg said. “So it was difficult to separate that normal homework stress from an actual mental illness.”

Meg decided to seek treatment after her symptoms began to interfere with everything she did – homework, extracurriculars, sleep.

“You just feel this way for what seems like no reason and it’s inescabple," Meg said. "It just kind of eats you up, and you can’t get out of it,” she said.

At that point, Meg and her parents agreed that this was not normal, and that she needed to find help. After seeing a psychiatrist, she said she began with medication and regular therapy, which helped her a lot.

As an adult, Meg still has her challenges, she said. She’s functional but she still has, in her words, "bad days." And as she’s moved around, finding new doctors that are covered by her insurance remains a challenge. For parents and adolescents alike who may be struggling with this, Meg said the key is to be understanding.

“I’ve had friends who’ve had parents who say, ‘You just need to pick yourself up. Just get over it,'" Meg said. "And you can’t, it’s not possible."

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please consider the following resources:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Support Groups
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: 1-800-826-3632
Families for Depression Awareness: 1-781-890-0220
To Write Love On Her Arms: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)


From Tom’s Reading List

NPR News: Depression Strikes Today's Teen Girls Especially Hard — "It's tough to be a teenager. Hormones kick in, peer pressures escalate and academic expectations loom large. Kids become more aware of their environment in the teen years — down the block and online. The whole mix of changes can increase stress, anxiety and the risk of depression among all teens, research has long shown."

Pediatrics: National Trends in the Prevalence and Treatment of Depression in Adolescents and Young Adults — "The prevalence of depression in adolescents and young adults has increased in recent years. In the context of little change in mental health treatments, trends in prevalence translate into a growing number of young people with untreated depression. The findings call for renewed efforts to expand service capacity to best meet the mental health care needs of this age group."

STAT: This study could unlock the mysteries of teen brain development — "Consider this: When parents take their child to a pediatrician, the child’s physical development can be plotted and compared to established norms, such as growth curves for height and weight. Just by stepping on a scale and having his or her height measured, much can be determined about how appropriately a child’s physical development is progressing and what health issues might need to be addressed."

This program aired on August 24, 2017.


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