As a school counselor, I am beginning to see more younger females who exhibit the symptoms of depression or have been diagnosed with depression. Stress appears to be a leading factor for depression in younger females. Participation in too many activities, desire to get good grades and low self-esteem seem to bring about most of the stress symptoms exhibited. Child psychologist and child behavior experts agree that the increase in female teen depression is on the rise. More research in this category of child development needs to be explored. This article explores some of the social, biological and environmental factors involved in this area of depression.
Social and Economic Factors
The role that school, friendships, and family play in depression in a girl is complex. Many girls grow up feeling that they must be everything to everyone and at the same time feel as if they are no one at all. This self-image is common and should be strongly considered as a major contributor to depression in many females; particularly those who are involved in numerous school activities, work and have desire to fit in.
Hormonal Fluctuations and Life Stages
Extreme hormonal shifts can trigger emotional swings in all females. The role of hormones in depression is not clear, however, and is mostly based on observations of depression during specific stages in female development. Female hormones undoubtedly play some role in premenstrual dysphoria, postpartum depression, and SAD. These forms of depression recede or stop after menopause.
Girls who go through puberty early (reaching the midpoint at 11 years or younger) are more likely to experience depression during adolescence than girls who mature later.
Depression After The Teen Years
Premenopausal women between the ages of 20 – 45 are most susceptible to depression, with 22% of this age group reporting symptoms of major depression. Specifically, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (severe depression before a period) affects an estimated 3 – 8% of women during their reproductive years.
Depression often occurs around menopause (the perimenopausal period), when, in addition to hormonal changes, other factors such as cultural pressures favoring young women, sudden recognition of aging, and sleeplessness are involved. In one study, more than half of perimenopausal women were diagnosed with major depression. Women who had depression before menopause may also have a risk for entering the premenopausal period at a slightly earlier age than women without depression.
Once women pass into the postmenopausal period, studies suggest that average depression scores are nearly as low as those in premenopausal women. In fact, many women report that after menopause, previous bouts of depression, particularly when caused by seasonal changes or premenopausal syndrome, recede or stop completely.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder
The syndrome of severe depression, irritability, and tension before menstruation is known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PDD or PMDD), also called late-luteal dysphoric disorder. It affects an estimated 3 – 8% of women in their reproductive years. A diagnosis of PDD depends on having five or more standard symptoms of major depression that occur during most menstrual cycles, with symptoms worsening a week or so before the menstrual period and resolving afterward. PMDD has features of both anxiety and depression disorders, although experts increasingly believe it is a distinct disorder with specific biochemical abnormalities.
Depression and Pregnancy
Pregnancy is certainly an occasion of great celebration for most women most of the time. However, emotions during that time are not always straightforward, and depression is a common (although most often a temporary) companion. A 2001 study found that depression during pregnancy was more common than depression after pregnancy, with the highest depression scores occurring in week 32.
Prenatal depression can affect a mother’s sleep, physical activity, adherence to care, and appetite — all of which can affect the unborn child. Some research suggests that depression during pregnancy may pose a risk for later language and behavior problems in the child later on.
Miscarriage. Miscarriage poses a very high risk for depression, particularly in the first month after the loss. Older women with no previous successful pregnancies and those with a history of depression are at particular risk during this time. (Despite some concern that depression increases the risk for miscarriage in the first place, there is no evidence to support this.)
Most new mothers experience weeping, irritability, and confusion for a few days following childbirth. Such symptoms, known as the “baby blues,” are not considered to be signs of postpartum depression unless they persist in severe form nearly every day for more than 1 – 2 weeks.A 2006 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that women are most likely to develop postpartum depression and other mental disorders in the first 3 months following delivery. (The risk is highest for first-time mothers, especially in the 10 – 19 days after delivery.) Other studies have reported that between 8 – 20% of women have diagnosable postpartum depression within that 3-month period. In one study, 5% of these women had suicidal thoughts.
Studies have not found any association between a higher risk for postpartum depression in women and the following:
· Educational level
· Gender of the child
· Whether or not the woman breastfeeds
· Whether or not the pregnancy was planned
· Whether the delivery was vaginal or cesarean
The rapid decline of reproductive hormones that accompany childbirth is likely to play the major role in postpartum depression in susceptible women. Fluctuating thyroid hormones can also contribute to depression. Studies suggest that women who are more sensitive to hormone fluctuations are at greater risk for postpartum depression if they have one or more of the following conditions:
· A history of prior depressive episodes
· A family history of mood disorders
· Stressful life events (such as being a new mother and having an infant with medical problems)
· Lack of social support or feeling as if it is lacking
Although a mother’s depression during and after pregnancy can have serious effects on her child, researchers are still trying to determine the best methods for preventing and treating pregnancy-related depression.
The use of antidepressants during pregnancy is controversial, especially for women with major depression who regularly take antidepressant medication. Most doctors advise women to avoid, if possible, any medications during pregnancy and nursing. But, according to an important 2006 study, women with depression who stop taking antidepressants during pregnancy are five times more likely to have a relapse of depression during pregnancy than women who continue to take their medication. Experts recommend that women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant should not stop taking antidepressants without first talking to their doctors.
To complicate matters, recent research suggests that serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may increase risks for the fetus. The strongest evidence concerns the SSRI paroxetine (Paxil), which can cause major birth defects — including heart abnormalities — if taken during the first trimester of pregnancy. In 2006, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that doctors should not prescribe paroxetine to women who are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant.
Additional 2006 studies suggested that SSRIs may cause complications if taken later in pregnancy. One study reported that persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPH), a serious lung condition, was six times more common in babies whose mothers took an SSRI antidepressant after the 20th week of pregnancy, compared to mothers who did not take antidepressants. Another study indicated that babies may experience drug withdrawal symptoms if their mothers take SSRIs during the third trimester. Venlafaxine (Effexor), a dual inhibitor antidepressant, has also been associated with birth complications when taken during the last trimester.
In terms of non-drug treatment of postpartum depression, a review of 15 clinical trials suggested that postpartum depression is best treated by intensive and individualized psychotherapy within a month after a woman gives birth. The researchers found that women are too busy in the weeks before birth to attend prenatal classes that focus on preventing postpartum depression.