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CDC Reports U.S. Teen Girls Experience Increased Sadness: What does this mean for the long haul?

Depression in teenage girls is an increasingly prevalent issue, with statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that nearly three in five teenage girls felt persistent sadness in 2021 (double the rate of boys) and one in three girls seriously considered attempting suicide (up nearly 60% from a decade ago).

It is not only imperative we find help for teens suffering with depression symptoms to get them through today, but it is also important to help them so they can avoid significant long-term ramifications into adulthood.

Oh that Pandemic ...

In the last several years, we have all faced an unprecedented perfect storm of risk factors that can contribute to depression. However, depression among teenage girls has been on the rise for the past decade (correlating to the rise in social media use) even before the dramatic increase in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic was a huge catalyst for this perfect storm of depression symptoms, when schools and work places shuttered, socializing became limited and dangerous, and access to mental health services became more difficult.

Social media increased at a phenomenal rate during the pandemic. Teen girls especially turned to online networks to stay in touch with friends and find new ways to socialize. However, the hours of scrolling through posts and comparing your pandemic life to others can lead to a heightened sense of competition and feelings of inadequacy. Social media often curates an idealized version of life and peers that is simply unattainable.

Why The Girls?

Girls typically experience puberty earlier than boys, which can lead to physical, hormonal and psychological changes that can be difficult to navigate when you are possibly not even a teenager yet (average age for female puberty is between 8 and 13 years old). Girls experience a range of emotional changes as they transition physically from children to adults. Emotions can oscillate rapidly between excited anticipation for the future to feelings of insecurity and confusion.

Think about navigating such an emotionally transitional time while being isolated with images of perfection for comparison. Now that's a perfect storm.

Social interference during these early teen years can lead to an emotional arrested development that impedes maturation and self-awareness. I can not remember anything more interfering than the pandemic and I can not name a more emotionally intense time of development than those early teen years in girls.

Arrested Development (not the tv show)

The effects of arrested development during puberty for girls can be far-reaching and long-lasting, impacting physical, mental, and emotional development. Some of the signs that girls may be struggling to develop emotionally and relationally can be: difficulty connecting with peers, lack of interest in developing relationships, low self-esteem, and difficulty expressing emotions.

If a girl experiences barriers to development during this consequential time, it can throw her off course and leave her feeling disoriented and confused. Unfortunately, if left unaddressed, the symptoms of arrested development will linger long into adulthood. An adult who has experienced stalled growth during puberty may struggle with emotional regulation, setting and maintaining healthy boundaries, academic or professional failure, disassociation, depression and/or anxiety.

There's hope.

The effects of COVID-19 and the accompanying isolation and fears combined with the ever increasing use of social media may be out of our immediate control. However, emotional responses may actually help. Sadness, anger, and especially grief during the last several years may not only be unavoidable, but may also be a healthy reaction to the circumstances. Our job is to make space for any resulting emotions and then to create an environment where the most susceptible among us can feel safe and supported.

Depression is a complex and multifaceted condition, and the symptoms of arrested development can have a significant effect on our adult self's ability to cope. Diving into past circumstances that have impeded on our growth during any stage of emotional developmental is considered by most therapists as "the work" in therapy.

If you want to get started on "the work" in therapy, feel free to contact Dr. Guess to talk about the next steps.

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