Changing Physiology

Our modern world puts a lot of pressure on developing children. We are seeing increased rates of stress, clinical depression, anxiety, poor coping mechanisms, and more. Moreover, puberty brings volatility in behavior, attitudes, and moods that can outwardly look like mental health issues. Puberty can be a difficult time for everyone involved. Children are developing physically and mentally while (hopefully) growing emotionally too. As the size and shape of their bodies change, so too does the chemistry inside them as well. Rushes of new and different quantities of hormones can push all the buttons that contribute to moodiness, social withdrawal, and aggressive or avoidant behaviors.

During this tumultuous time, the likelihood that a child develops depression doubles or even triples. A child under the age of 10 has about a 2% chance of developing depression with the early stages of puberty being a moderate increase. The middle and later stages are when the chances increase up to 8%. The proportion of chances between teens also shifts so that in earlier stages, boys have the higher risk but that flips as soon as the transition to mid-puberty begins.

Signs of Depression

There are many symptoms of depression though not all of them become apparent in all teens. They can be categorized in both emotional changes and behavioral changes. Some of the emotional changes can include:

  • Intense feelings of sadness, anger, or frustration with no apparent cause
  • Easily irritable
  • Low self-esteem
  • Extreme sensitivity to failure/rejection
  • Intrusive thoughts on worthlessness and pessimism
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be pleasurable 

Some of the behavioral changes can include:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Constant fatigue 
  • Restlessness
  • Large changes in appetite with either weight loss or weight gain
  • Self-isolation
  • Self-harm
  • Poor work and academic performance
  • Suicidal ideation and attempts

How does Puberty Interact with Depression?

There are several possibilities for how depression and puberty are linked. One of the more obvious culprits is hormones. During puberty, the body is producing a large increase in hormones in order to facilitate developmental changes. One consistent hormone that is linked to depression is estrogen. There is ample research correlating estrogen surges in teen girls to depression, especially in later stages of development. 

Another issue is timing. Puberty happens at a stressful time in a teen’s life. Up until this point, many children’s schooling was based much more on socialization than functional academics. They are experiencing increasing pressure from school and peers as they struggle to fit in while everyone’s bodies around them are changing. Children can be particularly cruel when their peers are changing too early or too late. This is often a time of increased bullying. 

The stress-diathesis model explains that everyone is prone to certain disorders such as depression in varying amounts with no one being 100% immune. But it is also the application of stress that triggers the actual depressive episode. As you can see, puberty is a time of immense stress, especially in our modern world with social media, overloaded schedules, and constant criticism from people that can literally be anywhere in the world.

Sometimes these problems become overwhelming and you might need some help. Please contact Seven Stars to learn more about how we can help you and your child.