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Teen Girls Are Three Times More Likely than Boys to Be Depressed

New study on depression in adolescence reveals that girls are at a higher risk for depression—and at a much earlier age than we thought.
Photo by Jovana Rikalo via Stocksy

A new study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry has found that almost three times as many adolescent girls will experience early onset depression than adolescent boys. That is, over a third of teenage girls have had or currently have depression, compared to 13.6 percent of teenage boys. The landmark research looked at the data of over 100,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17.


Dr. Joshua Breslau, Senior Researcher in the Health Division of the global policy think tank RAND Corporation and one of the leading researchers in the study, tells Broadly that his research has two new and major findings: One, that the proportion of all adolescents who experience depression is higher than previously thought, and two, that the higher risk for depression among girls begins in childhood, earlier than previously thought.

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Researchers used data that was collected by the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which uses a representative sample of the US population. Interview questions were asked both in person and through computer-assisted methods. The study, titled "Sex Differences in Recent First-Onset Depression in an Epidemiological Sample of Adolescents," looked at survey questions regarding depression, suicide, academic functioning, depression-related impairment (in regards to chores, school work, familial relationships, etc…), and conduct problems (such as stealing, fighting, and carrying a handgun).

To look at the results more specifically, young girls are 2.8 times more likely to develop depression than boys at the age of 12 and between 3.1 and 4.0 times as likely as teen boys to develop depression at the ages 13 through 16.

Translational Psychiatry

Researchers also found that adolescent girls persistently "have significantly higher levels of impairment for all domains and higher rates of suicide attempts." Though the study did not look at the causes of depression in adolescents nor teen girls specifically, it did focus on the differences in behavior between adolescents with persistent depression and those with first-onset cases. The study found that the prevalence of suicide attempts for both boys and girls with first-onset depression was over 15 percent. In accordance with that data, it concludes that "evidence clearly does not support taking a 'wait and see' approach to recent first-onset cases of depression in clinical settings."

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"Right now it is important to emphasize that all adolescents with depression should seek treatment," Dr. Breslau says. "However, future studies could help us focus clinical efforts on a smaller group of individuals. We would like to be able to identify which adolescents who become depressed are most likely to benefit from treatment and which are most likely to get better on their own."