Young Girls Nearly 3 Times More Likely to Suffer from Depression Than Boys

By Nishi Jain ’21

Studies have revealed neurological differences between healthy brains and brains that have been diagnosed with depression. It is a subject of additional interest for the University College London, the institution conducting research on this subject, to see if there are neuroplasticity implications in the development of these differences in young children as they fall farther into depression without assistance (Source: Wikipedia).

As scientists in the twenty-first century have pushed the previously rigid boundaries of medicine, policy implementation has been reflective of the discoveries that have changed the face of clinical science. One of the predominantly active sectors of medicine that has evolved to include such policies is that of mental health—with a particular focus on clinical depression. With 19 million Americans currently diagnosed with the mental disorder, policymakers have invested significant time and financial capital into the investigation of ways to maximize chances of treatment and minimize the chances of diagnosis.

While clinical depression has always been connoted with adults, scientists at the University of Liverpool and University College London chose to delve into research to analyze the effects that this mental disorder could have on children, surveying a series of 14-year old children on the reporting of their emotional problems.

Results showed that 24% of girls and 9% of boys suffer from depression.

What caused girls to suffer at a disproportionally higher rate? Professor Emla Fitzsimons, a research fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, believes that the key cause lies in the fact that mental health problems among girls rise sharply as they enter adolescence. While more research is necessary to further understand the foundational causes of these adolescent mental health problems, this study sufficiently highlighted the scope of mental health difficulties of young people, thus stressing the greater need for nationally representative evaluations of mental health problems in current adolescents.

Anna Feuchtwang, serving as Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, believes that she can offer an explanation to the overrepresentation of young girls among depressed adolescents. “Worryingly there is evidence that parents may be underestimating their daughters’ mental health needs,” she said in a recent interview. She argues that since the daughters are more likely to report the symptoms that experience versus the sons in the family—who are more likely to suppress them—the parents are more likely to pick up on the unreported symptoms from the boys rather than recognize the necessity of addressing the self-reported symptoms from the girls. “It’s vital that both children and their parents can make their voices heard,” she said. “[Such behavior will] maximize the chances of early identification and access to specialist support.”

While further implications will be explored with further research that is done by the University, depression in children is certainly not a phenomenon with limited consequences—plans to improve the wellbeing of children must be done at the personal, institutional, and policy-making levels. Such changes can thus enable parents, scientists, and government officials to prevent this condition from reaching a crisis point, thus ameliorating the mental health of children and enabling them to build a solid psychological foundation for the future.

Source: Patalay P & Fitzsimons  E. Mental ill-health among children of the  new century: trends across childhood with  a focus on age 14. September 2017. Centre for Longitudinal Studies: London.