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As they move through the already vulnerable amount of adolescence rates of major depression skyrocket among young girls.

In accordance with new research, about 5 percent of 12-year old girls experienced a major depressive episode in the past year, compared with 15 percent of 15-year old girls, a threefold increase.

Some 1.4 million girls aged 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the previous year.

The information “is important for both prevention and treatment,” said Richard McKeon, chief of the suicide prevention branch at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the government agency that released the report last week.

“Girls are experiencing major depressive episodes early, across the time of puberty, and this actually points to the need for treatment,” added Dr. Elizabeth Miller, chief of the division of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

The report, according to a big national survey conducted annually to evaluate drug use and mental health, found that girls aged 12 to 17 were at triple the threat of experiencing a major depressive episode when compared to boys (12 percent vs. 4.5 percent).

It’s unclear why these gender disparities exist, but they’re likely due to multiple variables including biological susceptibility and, perhaps, the higher rates of sexual abuse among girls, Miller said.

“It is probably quite a few different factors, including psychological, biological and societal factors which could all contribute to some level,” McKeon said. “It’s a period of great transition, a time of biological transition, a time of social change, so there are likely a number of distinct reasons.”

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And teen boys do experience depression, although not “at exactly the same rate as teenage girls,” McKeon pointed out.

The report also revealed disparities in treatment based on age, with fewer girls aged 12 to 14 receiving treatment for major depression than girls aged 15 to 17.

Because major depression in younger girls might be mistaken for the normal mood swings of puberty, this may be, Miller said. When the symptoms persist, teachers and parents may begin sending girls that are mature for treatment.

A major depressive episode as defined in this report includes losing “interest and delight for fourteen days or more and other symptoms like problems sleeping, eating, lower energy, trouble concentrating,” McKeon said.

The question then, is how to distinguish typical adolescent turbulence from something more serious?

“You don’t desire parents to overreact. On the other hand, it’s important they cannot disregard those indications,” McKeon said. “If a mood prevails and there are several other associated hints like trouble focusing, difficulty performance, lack of desire or energy, that teenager may need additional help.”

Miller believes that even initial signs referred for early intervention and of moodiness ought to be studied seriously.

“Early intervention might not mean drugs,” she stressed. “It may mean counseling, making sure the kid has more social support, offering more tasks inside the school that are boosting well-being and wellness.”

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