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Depression in Teen Girls: What You Should Know 

depression treatment for teen girls

Depression is rising in youth across the United States, and teenage girls are disproportionately affected. According to the latest data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), teen girls are experiencing record high levels of sadness, as well as suicide risk. Specifically, three in five teenage girls (57 percent) felt persistently sad and hopeless in the past year. One in four teen girls (24 percent) made a suicide plan. These percentages are cut in half for teenage boys. About 29 percent of teenage boys reported persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness during the same period, and 12 percent made a suicide plan.

For years, studies have shown that females are more vulnerable to depression and other mental illnesses. The Mayo Clinic reports that women are about twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression. However, as we assess the experiences of teen girls today, we have to wonder why their struggles with depression are increasing at such an alarming rate. 

Even more, we must learn how to help teen girls who are experiencing such devastating symptoms. How can parents, educators, and other adult figures step in and help those in need? With so many teen girls considering – and attempting – suicide, there is great urgency around this topic. If you think your loved one is struggling with depression, you must know the signs and take steps to intervene. 

What Does Depression Look Like in Teenage Girls?

Teenagers are undergoing many changes during their adolescent years. They are experiencing dynamic changes in their hormones, brain chemistry, and bodies. On top of this, they are starting to take risks, develop an identity, and establish themselves outside of their family circle. They are more focused on fitting in with friends, doing well in school or sports, and being accepted by those around them. With all this going on, it can be hard to detect the signs of depression in teenagers. This is especially true for teen girls.

In general, teenage girls are very focused on how they present themselves and being accepted within social circles. They, unfortunately, will commonly struggle with self-esteem issues and some experience bullying from other girls in school. These factors alone can lead to the development of depression, but there are many other risk factors at play (more on that soon).   

So, how can you know if your teenager is battling depression or just the normal woes of adolescence? While depression looks different for everyone, there are some tell-tale signs in teenagers. The most important thing to note is that depression occurs when these symptoms persist for two weeks or more. If you are beginning to notice a trend in these symptoms developing, be sure to keep a close eye on the timeline and do not hesitate to intervene early. Look for the following symptoms in teen girls:

  • Persistent sadness or moodiness: Teenage girls with depression may exhibit prolonged periods of sadness, tearfulness, or irritability.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure: They may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, including hobbies, socializing with friends, or participating in extracurricular activities.
  • Changes in sleep patterns: Depression can cause disruptions in sleep, leading to either insomnia (difficulty falling or staying asleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping).
  • Changes in appetite or weight: Some girls may experience changes in appetite, leading to significant weight loss or gain. Eating disorders are also common in teen girls and may co-occur with depression.
  • Low self-esteem: Feelings of worthlessness, self-doubt, or guilt are typically more pronounced in teenage girls with depression. Because “fitting in” is so important to many teens, they may be overly critical of themselves and perceive themselves in a negative light.
  • Increased sensitivity: Teenage girls with depression may be hypersensitive to criticism or perceived rejection, which can exacerbate feelings of sadness or inadequacy.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy: Teens with depression may frequently complain of feeling tired or lacking energy, even after adequate rest.
  • Physical complaints: Similarly, depression in teens might manifest through physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or other aches and pains, without an explicable cause.
  • Difficulty concentrating: Depression can disrupt teens’ concentration, decisiveness, memory, and overall cognitive function, making it challenging for girls to focus on schoolwork or other tasks.
  • Withdrawal from social activities: Depressed teen girls may withdraw from social interactions, preferring to spend more time alone or isolating themselves from friends and family members.
  • Suicidal ideation: Unfortunately, depression and suicide are closely linked. Teen girls battling depression are more likely to consider suicide or exhibit behaviors of self-harm.

It’s important to note that not all teenage girls with depression will exhibit all of these symptoms, and the severity of symptoms can vary from person to person. Additionally, symptoms of depression in teenage girls may overlap with other mental health conditions or physical health issues, so a thorough health screening (such as by your primary care physician, or a mental health professional) is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Why are Teenage Girls More Vulnerable to Depression?

The causes of depression are both biological and environmental. A person may be predisposed to depression as a result of family history, however, there are many other risk factors outside of genetics alone. Other biological factors (such as health issues), personal life circumstances, and experiences can increase a person’s risk of depression. There is not one, common cause.

With that said, females do have unique experiences with depression in contrast to their male counterparts. Experts believe that certain risk factors, such as hormonal changes during puberty, or struggles with body image, weigh more heavily on females than males.  

This is particularly true for teenage girls. Below are some common reasons why teenage girls develop symptoms of depression, and the factors that may put them more at risk: 


Temporary mood swings are normal as teenagers navigate puberty. However, the hormonal changes experienced by girls is thought to more significantly affect mood regulation in girls than boys. Specifically, fluctuations in girls’ estrogen and progesterone levels may contribute to mood swings and increased vulnerability to depression.

Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of the new book, “Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media,” explores the influence of puberty on depression in depth. She explains how estrogen is an important regulator in the female brain. However, when women experiencing ongoing stress in their lives, it can make their systems overreact – evoking a stress response that is similar to experiencing physical harm. 

In an interview with CNN, she goes onto explain: “Puberty is a super vulnerable time for girls’ brain development. Of course, this is true for boys and everyone on the spectrum, too, but it is especially true for girls. When estrogen comes on board during puberty, it is particularly powerful at increasing a potent stress response… When girls experience overwhelming social and emotional stressors at the same time that estrogen is coming onboard during puberty, this can exacerbate the ill effects of stress on health and development.”

It’s worth noting that girls also reach puberty before boys do, so they are more likely to develop depression at an earlier age than boys. For girls, they are entering puberty – and may experience this overwhelming stress response – before they are fully wired to handle it. The brain does not fully develop until a person’s 20s. 

Social Pressure: 

Society often places different expectations and pressures on girls and boys. Girls typically face higher levels of scrutiny regarding their appearance, social status, and relationships. They also place more emphasis on these social factors, which can cause disruptions in their emotional and mental health.

Now, in an age where almost every teen has access to social media, the influence of others has gotten even worse. Teenagers are growing up in what we call a “comparison culture” – in which they are constantly exposed to other people on Instagram or TikTok, where people post about the good aspects of their lives. Teen girls may fall into a pattern of comparing themselves to social media influencers, or trying things that will make them fit into a certain image or mold. They are seeking validation both in-person and online. As Nakazawa explains:

“Once they are on social media, the focus on appearance hits girls especially. They are more likely to be “liked” or “disliked” based on their looks, and sexualized, than boys. They learn that the more clothes you take off, the more “likes” you get, and that their bodies are going to get evaluated.”

She goes onto say, “Social media platforms are created to increase the intensity of emotion. And then we have to layer upon that the stark reality that girls routinely face added threats like sexual harassment, rape and violence against women by virtue of being female.”

The pressures to look a certain way, to act a certain way, or to get a certain number of likes can weigh heavily on teen girls over time. It can lead to intense feelings of inadequacy, a negative self-image, anxiety, and symptoms of loneliness and depression.

Body Image Concerns: 

While this might go hand-in-hand with the above, teen girls are often facing pressure to conform to unrealistic standards of beauty, both through social media as well as other aspects of life. This can lead to body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and other extremes to achieve physical results. Body image issues are strongly linked to depression in adolescents.

Experiences of Trauma: 

Traumatic experiences are closely connected to depression. Those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are three to five times more likely to develop depression than the general population. For teen girls and females more generally, trauma is a sad reality that many face. 

In the latest data from the CDC, we learned that teenage girls are experiencing stressful circumstances and traumatic events at a much larger scale than teen boys. According to the survey, many teen girls have experienced sexual violence (20 percent), been electronically bullied (20 percent) or bullied at school (17 percent), and have been forced to have sex (15 percent). In the 30 days prior to the survey, about 10 percent of female students admitted they did not go to school because of safety concerns. 

Over time, an unsafe and threatening environment can take a toll on one’s mental health. And the trauma and abuse that these young girls are facing are putting them at much higher risk for depression.

Ineffective Coping Mechanisms: 

When a person is struggling with difficult circumstances, such as bullying at school, sexual harassment, or even academic pressure, their coping skills (or lack thereof) will play an important role in how these events impact their mental health.

Most teenagers do not have sufficient coping mechanisms, unsure how to handle stress and emotional distress. And teen girls and boys try to cope with stress differently. While boys are more likely to externalize behaviors, like substance abuse or fighting, when struggling with something, teen girls are more likely to internalize their feelings. This can increase their risk of depression.

Other Mental Health Issues: 

Research shows that women are among the highest-risk groups for mental health disorders. More than one in four (27 percent) U.S. women have experienced a mental health condition in the last year, compared to about 18 percent of men. Mental illnesses like anxiety disorders and eating disorders, which are more prevalent in females, can be precursors to depression. Similarly, girls with depression are more likely to develop other, co-occurring mental health conditions.

Macro Issues in their Environment:

According to a recent article from PBS, it’s important not to ignore the macro, environmental abstractions affecting our youth today. Issues like climate change, social upheaval, racial inequity, gun violence, a declining economy, and—perhaps most significantly for females—the bans on women’s rights across the U.S. are having a devastating effect on teens’ mental health. These issues will influence their future, so of course they are concerned. In the wake of these ongoing stressors, many teenagers feel are developing anxiety and depression. 

Women and girls, of all ages, are more likely to feel the effects of this stress on their mental and physical health. As Nakazawa states in her conversation with CNN, because of the estrogen response in females, “social stressors can evoke an immune response similar to that of experiencing physical harm.”

Learn more about the causes of depression in teenagers here.

Treatment for Teenage Girls with Depression

Depression treatment for teen girls is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone has unique experiences and struggles in life, and with their health, that must be considered when creating a treatment plan. 

With that said, there are evidence-based treatment methods that have been especially successful for teenagers with depression. The most common is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often recommended as the first-line treatment for depression in teenage girls. CBT helps teens identify and change the negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to depression. It helps them get to the root of their feelings, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and find motivation to carry out a more positive attitude and life. 

While CBT is thought to be the most effective type of therapy for depressed teens, other forms of therapy—such as interpersonal therapy (IPT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and family therapy—can also be beneficial, particularly for teens with more severe diagnoses. 

As suggested by one nationally-recognized study, “Both CBT and interpersonal therapy have also been shown to improve mood among adolescents with subthreshold depressive symptoms.” Additionally, the authors continue, “Involvement of caregivers seems to have a better response than therapies focusing only on the adolescent.” For those at risk of suicide, “Dialectical behavioral therapy has shown promising results, specifically in reducing suicidal ideation and non-suicidal self-injury among adolescents.”

For many, psychotherapy is just one piece of the puzzle. A multimodal approach to depression treatment may be recommended for teens, depending on their needs. For example, antidepressant medication is sometimes recommended for severe cases of depression in adolescents, when therapy alone is not effective or possible. Lifestyle measures, such as increased physical activity, improved dietary patterns, a dedication to sleep, can also help support the healing process.

Of course, it’s important to be supportive of your teenager during this time. After intervening and finding your teen the help she needs, be sure to support her throughout the treatment process. Supportive relationships with family members, friends, teachers, and other trusted individuals can provide valuable emotional support and encouragement for teenagers with depression, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness, and motivating them to live a healthy life.

As you research depression treatment options, think about your loved one’s needs. Most adolescents today (about 60 percent) with major depressive disorder have at least one, comorbid mental health diagnosis such as anxiety, ADHD, an eating disorder, or substance use disorder. As such, get a thorough mental health screening from an experienced clinical professional. This will ensure your loved one’s treatment is fully personalized and able to address all of her concerns and needs.  

If you are unsure where to turn for support, or would like to learn how Turnbridge can help you or your teenager, please do not hesitate to reach out. Turnbridge is a recognized treatment program for teenagers and young adults struggling with depression and other mental health disorders. We have gender-specific, trauma-informed programs as well as clinical professionals trained in the unique experiences of teen girls. We are here for you. Call 877-581-1793 today.