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Girl Talk: Female Adolescents and Depression
Adolescent depression is one of the most common and over-looked problems today.
Unfortunately, females are much more likely to suffer from depression during the
adolescent stage. The ratio of adolescent women to men suffering from depression is
about 2:1. There are many symptoms accompanying depression. Some of these include
eating disorders, self mutilation, withdrawing from activities, or suicidal thoughts. There
are many treatment options for adolescent females with depression. They can involve
counseling, medication, or a combination of both. However, even with treatment, the
probability of a second or third episode of depression is high.
Course: Introduction to Research, ENGL 2017
Who hasn’t been depressed at one time or another? Depression in any form is a
natural part of life. Nobody can go through life and never experience sadness, anxiety,
or stress. Unfortunately, adolescents are more prone to depression than other age
groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 1 in 4 adolescents
thinks about suicide each year, and by the end of high school 1 in 10 has attempted
suicide. But more specifically, adolescent females are twice as likely to become
depressed when compared to their male peers (Pearse, 2004).This paper will examine
the possible causes for depression in adolescent females, symptoms of depression, and
various treatment options to provide recovery for these individuals.
A group of investigators in England gave a survey to 375 females between the
ages of 11 and 16. In the results of the survey, the investigators found that the
likeliness of depression increases with age. According to these results, 3% of 11 year
olds, 20% of 14 year olds, and 43% of 16 year olds could be classified as having major
There are many reasons why adolescent females may become depressed. Some
research has led to the conclusion that self-defeating beliefs feed the cycle of
depression. Self defeating thoughts come from learned helplessness from society. This
may explain why women are much more likely to become depressed. Women are more
likely to be abused, made to feel helpless, and feel vulnerable (Myers, 2004).
Females also respond much stronger to stress. Dr. David G. Myers (2004),
author of the seventh edition textbook of Psychology, says,
When trouble strikes, women tend to think, men tend to act. Women often have
vivid recall for both wonderful and horrid experiences; men more vaguely recall
such experiences. This gender difference in emotional memory may feed
women’s greater rumination over negative events and explain why 16 percent of
entering American college men and 35 percent of entering women reported
being “frequently overwhelmed.” A woman may fret and act anxious or
depressed, while a man may distract himself by drinking, acting out, delving into
Researchers have known for a long time that mood disorders tend to run in
families. The risk of developing major depressive disorder increases when you have a
depressed parent or sibling. Researchers are using a technique called linkage analysis
to find which genes pass on depression. Genes direct biochemical events in the brain
and eventually influence behavior (Myer, 2004).
The depressed brain is different from the brain of a person who is not depressed.
Two of the neurotransmitters in the brain, norepinephrine and serotonin, are scarce
during depression. Researchers have found in numerous studies that the brain of a
depressed person tends to be less active. Dr. Myers (2004) says, “The left frontal lobe,
which is active during positive emotions, is likely to be inactive in depressed state” (p.
Another biological reason that adolescents may suffer from depression is that the
average age of puberty is now earlier. Puberty is a troubling time filled with change,
and this may cause confusion and doubt in young women. Janet Burkitt (2000), a
Seattle Times reporter, says that, “The onset of depression – often at the heart of
suicide – is also earlier than it once was, and some believe the rate of this mood
disorder has increased over time as well.”
There are other factors influencing the onset of depression besides biological
factors. Social expectations, for example, leave women vulnerable to depression. In the
Journal of Mental Health Counseling, Toni Sands (1998) states that “women are at
higher risk for depression due to such contributing variables as the societal expectation
that women respond to the needs of others over their own.” Women are expected to
play a stereotypical role in society. Characteristics such as passivity, low self-esteem,
feelings of incompetence, self-blame, and crying are all normal for females.
Unfortunately, these are all signs of depression as well.
There are many tell-tale signs of depression. Some symptoms are much harder
to spot than others. One of the first and most obvious signs is low self-esteem. Low
self-esteem generally leads into another stage of depression. The depressed person
begins to withdraw from things that were once important to her. Friends, family,
hobbies, sports, grades, activities, and faith all begin to take a backseat in the
depressed females life. Nothing is left but hopelessness and sadness (Burkitt, 2000).
Another warning sign of depression seems to be a chicken and egg problem.
Researchers believe substance abuse, whether it be drugs, cigarettes, or alcohol, and
depression have a positive relationship with each other. John Maag and Deborah Irvin
(2005), two authors for Adolescense, say,
In general, symptoms of depression predate alcohol abuse. For example,
Fergusson and Woodward (2002) found that adolescents who were depressed
were significantly more likely to abuse alcohol than were their nondepressed
peers. Kandel, Johnson, Bird, and Camino (1997) suggested that depression is
one of the major risk factors for adolescents using licit and illicit substances. [.]
Other researchers have suggested that the earlier misuse of alcohol begins, the
greater the likelihood that psychiatric problems, such as depression, will occur.
During adolescence, girls become increasingly aware of society’s expectations to
be pretty and popular. Body-image begins to take front seat; beauty and weight
become extremely important (Sands, 1998). Eating disorders often accompany
depression. A negative body image sometimes leads to the need to lose weight.
Sometimes, females feel in greater control when they are able to control their weight
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which people will drop significantly
below their ideal weight. Even when their weight has dropped by 15 percent or more,
these people still have a negative body image, feeling fat and bloated. The disorder
usually develops during adolescence, 9 out of 10 times in females (Myers, 2004).
A more common eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, is characterized by episodes of
binging followed by purging, laxative use, fasting, or excessive exercise. Most bulimia
patients are females in their late teens or early twenties. In the textbook Psychology,
Dr. Myers says, “Like those with anorexia, they are preoccupied with food, are fearful of
becoming overweight, and are depressed or anxious (p. 464).
Some warning signs are not as visible as the others. For example, self-mutilation,
which often accompanies depression, is a hidden symptom. In an article about females
and self mutilation, Emma Pearse (2004) says, “Existing research indicates that during
adolescence, female teens are twice as likely as teen-age males to suffer from
depression, often with self injury as a related behavior.” Research indicates that cutters
are usually females. In the same article, Dr. Wendy Lader explains that “traditionally
boys are able to express anger outwardly more directly. Girls live in a much more body-
focused culture. Skin is a bulletin board, they’re saying, ‘Can you see how much pain
I’m in?’” Dr. Lader works in Illinois at a treatment facility for those who injure their
Many of the symptoms are hard to recognize. A lot of depressed teens don’t
intend to share their feelings with others, so they hide themselves under a mask.
Females especially, feel compelled to appear as though nothing is wrong. Women are
brought up believing that anger and depression are unfeminine. This results in
adolescent teens holding their feelings inside and becoming unwilling to share (Sands,
There are many ways that depressed individuals may receive help. The most
important ingredient is support. Friends and family are a crucial factor to the recovery
of a depressed individual. Showing concern is the first and easiest step to take when
dealing with someone who is depressed. Without crowding, being confrontational, or
threatening, friends and family should try to talk to the person about her feelings.
Asking questions is the only way to get answers. Loved ones should always remind the
depressed individual that they care about them (Burkitt, 2000).
When intervention by family and friends isn’t enough, professional help should
be sought. Psychologists, psychiatrists, family doctors, or counselors can all be helpful
during this time. Therapy or antidepressants may be advised, or a combination of both
Therapy usually puts a stereotypical image into a persons head of a “shrink”
sitting at a desk while their patient lies leisurely on a couch telling horror stories from
their childhood. This image is a complete mis-perception. Therapists listen in order to
understand and to empathize, reassure, advise, console, interpret, or explain.
Therapists allow patients to talk out their problems, and possibly heal themselves. They
can also offer an explanation or an alternative perspective for the depressed person
Researchers have often thought that genders might need different types of
therapy. Feminist counseling approaches the direct stresses placed on adolescent
females. According to Toni Sands (1998), “Feminist counselors utilize a unique
approach that differs from traditional models in its emphasis on recognizing societal and
cultural factors that contribute to depression in young women.”
There are three basic principles that guide feminist counselors as they work with
adolescent females. These tools are the personal is political, the egalitarian
relationships, and the valuing the female perspective techniques (Sands, 1998).
The personal is political technique analyzes the typical gender roles. It
distinguishes between those characteristics that are normal for a socially aware female,
and those that are symptoms of depression. The first step to be taken when using this
technique is to have the female identify stereotypical sex-role messages that she has
dealt with during her life. The counselor then helps the patient analyze both the positive
and negative effects of these stereotypes. In the Journal of Mental Health Counseling,
Toni Sands (1998) writes, “Traditional sex-role socialization of women forbids female
adolescents from acting assertively. By learning to stand up for herself, a young woman
may become empowered to counteract patterns of helplessness and submissiveness.”
Another tool that feminist counselors use is the egalitarian relationships
technique. “The counselor is neither parent nor friend, but a facilitator guiding the
young woman on an exploration of the underlying reasons for her depression” says Toni
Sands (1998). The patient is informed of all counseling procedures during the therapy.
The egalitarian relationships technique believes that therapy is a “collaborative
There are certain tools that can be used with the egalitarian relationships
technique. These tools allow the counselors to assess the specific circumstances of the
individual woman. One particular tool, the Silencing the Self Scale allows the therapist
to investigate typical gender specific items that are associated with women and
depression. Toni Sands (1998) states, “The instrument [Silencing the Self Scale] is
based on a model of female depression that notes that women have been socialized to
silence certain feelings, thoughts, and actions. Silencing invariably contributes to a
Feminist counselors also use the valuing the female perspective technique. Using
this principle, counselors work towards strengthening the adolescent female’s self-
esteem through positive statements. Feminist counselors recognize that female
adolescents have a need for connection. Toni Sands (1998) explains,
Women often describe a need for intimate closeness, a need that, when unmet,
leads to depression. Feminist counselors believe that this need for intimacy and
connection is not indicative of dependency and is not pathological. A frequent
concern that female adolescents bring to counseling sessions is the fear of losing
a relationship(s) or grief from the loss of a relationship.
Sometimes a more biological approach is needed when dealing with depression;
patients may be prescribed antidepressants. “Most antidepressants work by increasing
the availability of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine or serotonin, which elevate
arousal and mood and appear scarce during depression” explains Dr. Myers (2004). A
common misconception of antidepressants is that patients will wake up the next day
and be back to their old selves. Unfortunately, these drugs don’t work this way. The full
Unfortunately, these drugs don’t come without side effects. Skeptics believe that
some antidepressants are to blame for suicides. In 2004, the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) asked makers of various drugs to improve their suicide-related
warnings on the labels. Lauran Neergaard (2004), an Associated Press medical writer
says, “FDA’s own scientific advisers had urged stronger warnings that certain
antidepressants may cause agitation, anxiety and hostility in a subset of patients who
may be unusually prone to rare side effects.”
It’s difficult to tell if antidepressants increase suicidal behavior. Studies have
shown that these drugs help people recover from depression, but also they can increase
suicidal tendencies. “Most antidepressant labels already contain some fine-print
statement about suicide, usually that the possibility is inherent with depression” says
Lauran Neergaard (2004). Dr. Myers (2004) says, “[Antidepressant] users who commit
suicide are like cellular phone users who get brain cancer.”
Most often, a combination of antidepressants and therapy is needed. In the U.S.
News and World Report, Nancy Shute (2004) says, “Nearly three in four of their young
patients improved significantly with a combination of psychotherapy and Prozac, a
popular brand of the antidepressant drug class known as SSRIs.”
Another therapy option is group sessions. One of the most unique benefits with
this technique is that it allows patients to hear other’s problems, and possibly find new
options for their behavior. Dr. Myers explains,
It can help to receive feedback – perhaps being reassured that you look poised
even though you feel anxious and self-conscious. And it can be a relief to find
that you are not alone – to learn that others, despite their apparent composure,
share your problems and your troublesome feelings (2004).
Even with treatment the probability of a second or third episode is high (Sands,
1998). Severe stress can cause a relapse into depression. For some, therapy or
antidepressants may be required for the rest of their lives to balance their emotions for
daily activities. Ongoing research is being conducted to find more effective treatments.
Depression in female adolescents is a rising problem. The societal demands are
constantly changing, and women will always try to meet them. Self-defeating beliefs,
stronger response to stress, and genetic influences contribute to the problem
significantly. There are many dangerous symptoms associated with depression like low
self-esteem, substance abuse, eating disorders, and self mutilation, and adequate
treatment is important for these young females. I believe much more research needs to
be done to find the best approach to treat these young women.
Burkitt, J. (2000, February 16). Why are so many teens killing themselves? The Seattle
Times. Retrieved April 27, 2005 from SIRS Knowledge Source database.
Maag J., Irvin, D. (2005). Alcohol use and depression among African-American and
Caucasian adolescents. Adolescents, 40. Retrieved April 26, 2005 from
Myers, D. (2004). Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers.
Neergaard, L. (2004). Suicide warning sought for antidepressants. The Associated
Press. Retrieved April 27, 2005 from SIRS Knowledge Source database.
Pearse, E. (2004). Girl talk – Why we cut and burn ourselves. Inter Press Service.
Retrieved April 26, 2005 from SIRS Knowledge Source database.
Sands, T. (1998). Feminist counseling and female adolescents: Treatment strategies for
depression. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 20. Retrieved April 27, 2005
Shute, N. (2004, August 30). Teens, drugs, and sadness: Is a combo of pills and talking
the best remedy for depression? U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved April
27, 2005 from SIRS Knowledge Source database.
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