You might be surprised to learn that teenage depression can affect boys and girls differently. While both teen boys and teen girls can suffer from depression, the symptoms and the potential outcomes differ according to sex. Of course, every teen is different and your son might experience depression that is more similar to the way girls typically experience it (or vice versa). It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of depression so you can get your teen a quick intervention. Here are some ways that boys and girls might differ in the way they experience teenage depression.
Girls Are More Likely to Develop Teenage Depression
Depression is more likely to affect women and girls than men and boys. This is true for a few reasons.
One reason is that girls are more likely to suffer from body-image issues. Your daughter is exposed to images on television and in the media that portray women’s bodies as less-than-ideal if they don’t measure up to specific criteria. If your daughter has acne, doesn’t like her hair, is a bit overweight, or is just taller or shorter than her friends, she might be more likely to develop depression. Boys also worry about body image, but it’s usually not as important to them as it is to girls.
Another reason is simple biology: Girls go through monthly hormonal fluctuations that are particularly strong during adolescence. In addition, girls might be more likely to inherit depressive tendencies from their parents and grandparents. This doesn’t mean that boys don’t get depressed, because they do. If depression runs in your family, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of depression and to watch for them in both your sons and your daughters.
Girls Are More Likely to Ruminate
Ruminating is when someone dwells on negative thoughts. Due to their tendency to be a bit more introspective than boys, teenage girls will often ruminate more than their male peers. This can lead to a cycle of negativity that exacerbates depression. For example, your daughter might dwell on something that she said that another person took offense to. Rather than dismiss it as a momentary lapse or a minor misunderstanding, she might think about it over and over again, coming to the conclusion that she’s thoughtless or a bad friend.
Boys, by nature, tend to distract themselves when something negative happens. Your son might be more likely to ignore negative feelings and instead go for a run or play a video game. This has its own set of ill effects (such as having difficulty communicating or causing your son to pursue harmful activities), but turning his mind toward something more pleasant can help relieve the feelings that can lead to depression or make it worse.
Boys Are More Likely to Turn to Alcohol or Drugs
In their quest to distract themselves from their depression, boys are more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol if they are becoming depressed. The substances become a method of escaping from those negative feelings that your son doesn’t want to face. The downside, aside from the potential for addiction, car accidents, and serious health effects, is that using drugs or alcohol can perpetuate the cycle of teenage depression. Rather than getting help for the condition, boys might be more likely to depend on substances that end up making the depression worse.
Know the signs of teen drug use and abuse. Keep in mind that drugs don’t only include illegal substances like marijuana or heroin; many times, teens will get their hands on prescription painkillers or anti-anxiety drugs and begin to abuse them. If you have these types of medications in your home, keep them out of the reach of your teen and his or her friends.
Boys Are More Likely to Commit Suicide
While more girls experience teenage depression, more boys commit suicide due to depression. This can be a terrifying thought for the parent of a depressed teenage boy. One reason that depression in young men is more likely to result in suicide is that depression in boys is often harder to spot and treat. Whereas a girl might cry often or act mopey, a boy might be more likely to act out in anger or hide their feelings, making it harder for a parent to know that depression is an issue. When left unchecked, this depression can become more and more severe, only showing itself after a suicide attempt or successful suicide.
Knowing the signs that your teen might be contemplating suicide. These can include the following:
- cutting ties with friends and dropping activities
- giving away treasured items
- talking about dying or being obsessed with death
These symptoms require immediate assistance. If you notice these symptoms in your depressed teen, take your son or daughter to a pediatrician, mental health specialist, or emergency room for prompt treatment.
Girls and Boys Might Respond Differently to Treatment
A recent study at the University of Cambridge has shown that girls and boys respond differently to depression. Different sections of the brain react under positive, negative, and neutral stimuli. This means that the ways that boys and girls experience depression are not the only differences between the sexes when it comes to this condition. Treatments, particularly medications, can also vary in effectiveness based on the way teens’ brains operate. If a particular treatment does not seem to be working for your teen, regardless of gender, bring it to the attention of your child’s specialist.
Raising teens is difficult, and if you have both boys and girls, you might be surprised at how alike, as well as how different, they are. When it comes to mental health, it’s important to be open to the ways that they can present themselves. Since all teens are individuals, no two will react exactly the same to having depression, but it can be helpful to know how teenage depression tends to affect boys and how it tends to affect girls. Talk to your child’s pediatrician, family doctor, or mental health counselor for more information on what to look for if you suspect that your teen is suffering from depression.