Puberty is marked by sudden physical, psychological, social, and emotional changes a child goes through as he/she steps into adolescence. It is the time when both boys and girls mature sexually.
There are a lot of uneasy changes happening when children step into adolescence. And not all of them are physical. They are growing physically, psychologically, socially, and emotionally. And this is when puberty can become challenging for them.
According to G. Stanley Hall, a psychologist who is known as the founder of child and educational psychology, called Adolescence is the period of ‘Storm and Stress’. Where ‘Storm’ meant reduced self-control, ‘Stress’ referred to the increased levels of sensitivity.
Further, Storm and Stress are divided into the following three categories:
- Parent-Child Conflict
Adolescents have the tendency to fight or go against authority for they go behind freedom and liberty.
- Disruption of Mood
Biological changes like changes in hormones and cognitive stress during adolescence results in emotional changes. These are responsible for fluctuation in moods.
- Risky Behavior
Both emotional immaturity and the neurological need for excitement compel adolescents to take up risky behaviors during this time.
Now, according to Stanley, these sudden and multiple changes during puberty become challenging to manage for adolescents. And that is why they go through Storm and Stress.
And in many cases, these pubertal complexities can result in adolescents showing signs of teenage depression.
Why Does Depression Increase During Puberty?
As per research studies, the rate of occurrence of depression is equal both in both girls and boys before puberty. However, girls are close to two times more likely than boys to experience depression after the onset of puberty.
Puberty is a phase where adolescents experience various complexities. These complexities become difficult to handle or manage since they happen early on in life. And that is why these may result in teenage depression and other psychological disorders in adolescents.
Let’s have a look at the various factors that increase depression during puberty.
The Sudden and Multiple Pubertal Changes
Puberty is a phase that is marked by sudden, massive changes responsible for unstable behaviors, attitudes, and mood swings in children turning into adolescents.
It is typical for parents to take the normal changes due to puberty as a mental illness in teens. This is because it is challenging to tell when these changes are normal and when they take the shape of a mental illness.
Let’s first have a look at some of the important changes children go through during puberty.
1. Physical Changes
These are the most visible changes and are thus easy to spot. Both girls and boys go through various bodily changes during puberty. These are as follows:
Girls go through bodily changes like:
- hair growth under armpits and in the pubic region
- developing of breasts
- the onset of the menstrual cycle with an increase in height
On the other hand, boys witness physical changes like:
- hair growth under armpits and in the pubic area
- the growing size of the testicles and penis
- deepening of the voice, facial hair growth, and muscle growth with an increase in height (in boys) gets difficult to accept.
Now, when the children develop physically, there’s a change in the way they think about themselves and how people connect with them socially. In many cases, children find it difficult to accept sudden bodily changes. They feel uneasy and awkward. This increases the chances of exposing them to teenage depression.
2. Changes in Social Outlook
Likewise, puberty is also the time when a transition from childhood to adolescence is marked by a changing social outlook. Early adolescence is a tough time where focus shifts from parental relationships to peer relationships.
Adolescents give more importance to their relationships with peers or friends and how well are they accepted by others. They seek independence from their parents and increasingly depend on close friendships.
They start valuing social relationships more and show increased dependence on friends and romantic partners. Initially, friends and parents are equally important. However, friends and romantic partners become more important than parents eventually as they reach the end of puberty. And this is where fear of rejection, peer conflict, social pressure, and relationship issues come in.
Teens seek acceptance, popularity, and are conscious of their social status. Not being able to meet these needs can cause issues of self-esteem, worthlessness, excessive guilt, and in extreme cases self-harm. Thus, it is important to keep track of changes in moods, behaviors, and attitudes which are unavoidable due to the changing social landscape.
3. Hormonal Changes
Much like the physical changes, there is a sudden spike in hormone production in teens. The pituitary gland releases hormones that guide the body to increase the production of sex hormones like progesterone and estrogen in the case of girls and testosterone in the case of boys.
This increased production of hormones during puberty is responsible for developing secondary sex characteristics in both boys and girls. It is responsible for mood fluctuations that can, in some cases, result in symptoms of depression.
There are studies that reveal that gonadal steroids progesterone and estrogen impact the brain regions that regulate mood and behavior.
Further, social pressures, early maturing in the case of girls, and the fear of fitting in hold the potential for causing depression during puberty.
4. Neurological Changes
These refer to the neurological needs that adolescents have of excitement or stimulation. Neurological connections speedily come together that compel adolescents to indulge in risky behaviors.
This may prove devastating both for the child and the people around.
Additionally, there are a lot of other factors apart from these physical, emotional, and biological changes that increase complexities during puberty. These may further increase the likelihood of teenage depression.
Pubertal Status and Pubertal Timing
Both Pubertal Status and Pubertal Timing are the two most researched factors that are said to affect the psychological adjustments of adolescents.
Pubertal Status is the existing level of development that the adolescent goes through against the total overall pubertal change that typically takes place. That is to what degree is the adolescent currently experiencing the change as compared to the overall changes that take place during puberty.
Therefore, Pubertal Status lets you know at what stage of physical development is the adolescent at present or at a given point in time.
Now, Pubertal Status is critical as it involves a comparison of signs of physical maturation. For example, one is able to define the degree of physical growth via the development of physical aspects like:
- breast growth
- facial hair
- deepening of voice
- hair growth in the pubic region and armpits
- increased size of male sex organ
- increased height and weight
These physical changes not only invite responses from parents, friends, and others. They also lead to responses from the adolescent experiencing such changes himself.
For example, increased weight results in advanced pubertal status in the case of girls. This may lead to body image issues that can trigger depression symptoms and self-esteem issues in them.
However, mature Pubertal Status is a good predictor of depression in the case of girls relative to boys.
Pubertal timing refers to the level of an adolescent’s development as compared to his/her peers. Therefore, early, on-time or late development of an adolescent relative to his/her peers can also lead to maladjustment issues in adolescents.
In fact, pubertal timing contributes much more to the pubertal maladjustment issues in contrast to the pubertal status in the case of both girls and boys. It results in sad moods in both males and females. Also, the timing of menarche (or period) in the case of females always contributes to depressive symptoms in them when compared to pubertal status.
Further, when we talk about pubertal timing, we refer to both the physical and psychological development involved in puberty. This is because it includes an adolescent comparing his/her physical development with both social and regular standards. Thus, pubertal timing is actually one of the important factors that indicate whether an adolescent will face adjustment issues or not. That is why it is an important predictor of an adolescent’s overall welfare as compared to the pubertal status.
There are studies that indicate that before time or late development puts the adolescents at the risk of mental issues like anxiety, depression, aggression, and criminality.
However, there are other studies that only hold that before time or early maturation only results in problem behaviors in adolescents. For instance, early maturing girls were found to indulge in increased smoking and sexual activities.
Menarche in the Case of Girls
Apart from the degree of development and pubertal timing, one of the important factors to take into account is menarche. Menarche, or the onset of menstruation, is the last phase in puberty. Thus, the age at which the girl experiences the first occurrence of menstruation also influences the development of depression symptoms in girls.
Thus, puberty is an extremely tight time for both males and females as it leads to a bunch of changes. The changing social relationships defining deeper bonds with peers over authority figures and increased consciousness of social status expose adolescents to social stressors that may result in depression symtoms.
As peer acceptance becomes extremely important, adolescents fear peer rejection and interpersonal issues. Interpersonal issues with peers result in the development of internalizing symptoms in females. These include anxiety, sadness, loneliness, etc.
Also, rejection sensitivity or an expectation of being rejected by peers is also responsible for increased mental issues in the case of adolescents.
Accordingly, females who are sensitive to rejection are more likely to have peer conflict and issues with their relationships. Therefore, the increased probability of being liked by peers makes adolescents less sensitive to rejection.
Signs of Depression
As mentioned earlier, puberty is a difficult time for both males and females. Various physical, biological, and emotional changes may result in a sad mood, rumination, and even self-harm.
Therefore, it is important for parents, caregivers, and other authority figures to know various signs of depression in teenagers. This will help them to identify the depression symtoms and seek the right help for the children at the right time.
- irritable mood
- losing interest in activities that earlier interested the adolescent
- significant weight loss or gain
- excessive sleep or difficulty in sleeping
- feelings of excessive worthlessness or guilt
- loss of energy
- difficulty in focusing or concentrating
- the threat of losing a loved one (mostly parents)
- self-esteem issues
- avoiding school
- poor performance in academics
- risky behaviors like drug abuse
- thoughts of self-harming oneself
Depression Treatment: What Helps in Overcoming Teenage Depression?
Depression in teenagers can be treated by anti-depressants, psychotherapeutic intervention, or a combination of both.
Anti-depressants are recommended by mental health professionals as an initial treatment for mild, moderate, and severe cases of depression. Various anti-depressants are suggested considering the person’s inquisition and various side-effects linked with the medication. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are the first-line anti-depressants commonly used to treat depression.
Apart from anti-depressants, mental health professionals also recommend various psychotherapeutic interventions for treating depression in teenagers. Some of the commonly used psychotherapies include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Interpersonal Therapy (IT)
- Family Therapy, etc