Girls and Depression
At any time as many as 20 percent of kids can experience bouts of depression — temporary time spans when they seem to feel sadder or unhappier than usual. Some experts call this a case of having a touch of emotional “unhealth.” By that they mean the youngster is experiencing a passing phase of not feeling as cheerful as usual. This is similar to how a cold might affect your daughter physically, except that this type of “cold” affects her emotionally.
A temporary case of depression may be just part of your daughter's aches and pains as she grows up. It is to be expected in kids. They can get depressed like adults. But not having developed as many coping mechanisms as their elders have, they show their depressed feelings more openly, and maybe even for longer periods. But should the sad feelings in your girl last and last, you'll want to know what to do.
What makes depression in girls so difficult to recognize is that it can creep in slowly. In families with more than one child, kids are often stereotyped, such as “Mark is the outgoing one, and Michelle is the quiet type.” Labeling children according to their personality types can be mislabeling and hurts them. The “quiet” girl may simply be quiet because she is sinking deeper and deeper into depression.
The Reasons for Girls' Depression
Approximately 4 to 5 percent of all teens suffer from depression that is long-standing. Unfortunately, girls suffer from it at double the rate of boys. If you notice a serious and lasting — that is, stretching for a week or two consecutively — change in your daughter's mood, pay attention.
In your busy lifestyle, you have to keep your mind on so many things. But when you observe major changes in your girl's mood, jot down what specifically disturbs you. Does she “mope” all the time? Does she constantly have a somber expression? Does she seem to find absolutely no joy in her life? Chronicle what you see — if you do not write it down you might forget! — then educate yourself about the symptoms of teenage depression.
Several theories exist on why girls suffer from depression more than boys. They include the onset of puberty in girls and the accompanying hormonal changes, the gossiping and disrespect by their peers, the usual peer pressures, and their worries about their looks, personal problems, and romantic relationships.
The Symptoms of Depression
It can be difficult for you to know if your daughter is just going through a rough time emotionally or if she really is depressed. Asking her outright is usually not helpful because most girls do not know if they are depressed — they just are. So, take no chances when you notice the following in your girl:
A big change in eating and sleeping habits
Declining school performance and attendance
Withdrawing from previously liked people and activities
Persistent anxiety and unhappiness
Constant irritability or marked silence
Then look into the situation. What can be difficult is determining if your daughter is depressed or if she is just severely sleep-deprived.
One of the nation's top sleep experts is the Cornell University psychologist James B. Maas, PhD. He is quoted by the American Psychological Association as saying: “Almost all teenagers, as they reach puberty, become walking zombies because they don't get enough sleep.”
In some cases, the real problem may be another type of behavior that she might exhibit — bipolar disorder. This is a mental disorder that varies between the opposite extremes of mania (over-activity and elation) and depression (withdrawal from activity and sadness). It used to be called manic depression before the term bipolar disorder was coined.
Equipping yourself with knowledge about bipolar disorder is helpful because some girls may have an episode of it during some stage of their lives. These temporary bipolar behaviors can be the result of trauma or just a fleeting occurrence. In girls, the basic signs of bipolar disorder can resemble what is fairly normal in teen behavior. But it is the persistence and duration of these signs you want to watch out for, not the one-time occurrence of them.
Parents of girls with bipolar disorder frequently report that their daughters' periods are problematic. Either the girls have long absences of menstruation or much longer cycles, or they experience heavy bleeding and extreme cramping. Therefore, visit the gynecologist to discuss this particular problem any time your girl's periods are very irregular or associated with a lot of pain.
The Signs of Bipolar Disorders
If you are worried your daughter is suffering from bipolar disorder, take on the role of record keeper. Make a note if you observe the following conduct in your girl:
Severe difficulty in sleeping
Nonstop and fast talking, and racing thoughts
Frequent mood changes — up and down, down and up
Risky behavior and seemingly unlimited energy
There can be still more characteristics depending on the individual girl. None of these behaviors alone, or if they only occur for a short time, are extremely worrisome, but in combination and long-term, they should concern you. What should you do, should you notice them?
Remember those times when your little girl used to come to you crying because she stumbled and hurt herself, or the wheel of her tricycle fell off, or her favorite teddy bear lost a leg? Remember how you told her then you would make it all better? You picked her up, kissed her, put a bandage on her knee, fixed the tricycle, and sewed on the stuffed animal limb. You proved to her that you were powerful in making her feel better.
Now do the same thing. Really make it all better. That starts with putting your arm around your daughter's shoulder and telling her that you will fix this, too — whatever her problem may be. Whether it is depression, bipolar disorder, or any of the serious health concerns detailed in the following pages, the very first thing you always want to do is reassure your daughter that you have, or will find, the answer to her issues no matter what. She is not alone and can always count on you. You will indeed do everything you can to make things better for her and will not rest until the issues are resolved.
Sit down with her and repeat these statements, and then tell her that in some cases the best any parent can do is to reach beyond their expertise and enlist the help of experts in the medical field. That is because you do not want to try several halfhearted approaches on your own only to waste time before finally finding one that works. No, in serious matters like her emotional and physical health and well-being, you are starting at once and are going straight to the top.
Top Parent Plan
In cases of serious health matters — mental or otherwise — that concern your daughter, you have to spring into action immediately. You want to waste no time before taking these steps:
Make an appointment with a medical or mental health professional as soon as possible and get your girl some help.
Be more supportive of her than ever, listen to her, and don't criticize.
Become the most informed parent you can be via the library, local support groups, and the Internet.
Thus, you are using the full power of your love and care for your daughter in combination with all the knowledge of the health experts. Then working together, fiercely attack the problem. Using all your resources and theirs, keep at it until you make some head-way. After all, this is your chance to show what a truly remarkable parent you are.