Teenage Girls are Suffering

By Juli Fraga, Psy.D.

Did you know that America’s girls are getting sadder and have you thought about what that could mean for the field of Maternal Mental Health?

A recent study published in the medical journal, Pediatrics, shows a general increase in depression among teenagers. Of even greater concern, girls are more likely to suffer from major depressive disorder than their male peers and the number of girls struggling with depression  has risen sharply since 2011.

Why the Increase?
There are likely a number of factors at play (we’d love to hear your thoughts about potential causes in the comments field below). The researchers state that social media may be partly to blame: In an interview with NPR, Catherine Steiner-Adair, psychologist, and author of the study states, "young girls are continually impacted by media messages that convey that their physical appearance is more important than their intelligence.”

Teenage girls who struggle with depression are more likely to wrestle with low self-esteem, social isolation, and relationship difficulties. At a time when a teenage girl’s hormones surge, it’s easy for parents to misread the signs and symptoms of her depression as “teen angst” or normal moodiness. And unfortunately, many adolescent girls are not telling their parents about their sadness. Just like mothers suffering from MMH disorders, the majority of teens are never screened, diagnosed, or treated for their malaise.

Contrary to what parents and teachers may believe, the effects of this mental illness doesn’t vanish once these young women leave their teenage years behind.

A Young Woman’s Story
Ann, age 24, of Los Angeles has suffered from depression and anxiety since she was a teenager.  She says, “It’s a lonely condition because people rarely talk about it and for a long while, it affected my self-esteem, even as I reached my adult years.”

Ann says that if she had learned how to recognize the signs and symptoms of her mood concerns earlier in life, it would have made a world of difference.

“I spent a lot of time blaming myself. Other people told me that I was Type A and that I worried too much. Once I realized I had a mood concern, it made a world of difference because I could finally get the help that I needed.”

Ann also realizes that she's at risk for a relapse, which is why she makes her self-care a priority and uses some cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques to challenge her obsessive thoughts. Even though she uses these tools, Ann is aware that her mental health concerns may resurface if she has children in the future.

What this means for Maternal Mental Health
Girls who suffer from depression and anxiety are of course at a higher risk of developing a maternal mental health disorders, such as postpartum depression when they become mothers.

Early screening and detection of depression and anxiety among teen girls can also help to prevent maternal mental health disorders during new motherhood. Having a family and personal history of mental health concerns is a risk factor for postpartum depression and anxiety, but early diagnosis and treatment can catch these women in a safety net by providing them with the care that they need for years to come.

Girls who suffer from depression and anxiety are of course at a higher risk of developing a maternal mental health disorders, such as postpartum depression when they become mothers.

Our field should be ready for an Influx
We are bringing this up because we think the field needs to be prepared. This of course is not easy when we are dealing with a system that isn’t catching mothers now. But nonetheless we must be talking about this and using this to our advantage when making the case for access to services like telepsychiatry lines, hospital based outpatient and inpatient treatment programs and more.

Join us for important conversations like these at 2020 Mom’s Annual ‘Emerging Consideration’ forum in Los Angeles, February 2018.