TV & Movies

Your Teenage Depression, Explained

New research suggests the teenage years are tougher for girls (surprise, surprise)

MEAN GIRLS, Amanda Seyfried, Lindsay Lohan, Lacey Chabert, 2004, (c) Paramount/courtesy Everett Coll

Amanda Seyfried, Lindsay Lohan and Lacey Chabert in Mean Girls (Photo: Everett Collection)

Pity the teenage girl. The cards really are stacked against her when it comes to maintaining emotional equilibrium. A new study suggests that girls are exposed to more stress than boys, which in turn puts them at a higher risk of depression.

Psychology researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia analyzed emotional and cognitive data collected over several months from more than 380 adolescents, and came to two realizations. For one, teenagers who experience a great deal of “interpersonal dependent stress” are more likely to ruminate. And secondly, on average teenage girls deal with more of this kind of stress than boys do.

What exactly is “interpersonal dependent stress?”

“[It] can be anything from a fight with a friend to a break-up of a romantic relationship to being left out of social activities to being criticized or yelled at by parents,” explain lead researchers Lauren B. Alloy and Jessica Hamilton in a joint email.

This stress can lead to rumination, which in turn leads to depression. “Rumination is the tendency for individuals to focus passively and repeatedly on the causes, meanings, and consequences of one’s sad mood, and to have difficulty disengaging from these thoughts,” say Alloy and Hamilton. “This type of cognitive response may interfere with more active and adaptive responses, such as problem-solving or engagement in pleasurable activities to reduce the sad mood.”

Both researchers emphasize that girls aren’t more likely than boys to ruminate—but they are more likely to experience the type of stress that triggers rumination. And while there’s no clear indication as to why teen girls have to deal with more emotional bullsh-t than boys, the researchers hypothesize it may have something to do with the fact that young women are more likely to be raised to value intimacy and connection in relationships.

In terms of easing their emotional pain, the study does have some suggestions: “Although it would be ideal to say, ‘Don’t stress out teenagers,’ it may be more practical to focus on teaching adolescents more effective coping strategies for managing stressful events when they do occur.”

This specific study didn’t recommend any specific coping strategies, but other research suggests that directing thoughts toward dealing with the problem directly rather than brooding on the situation is one way to curb the tendency to ruminate.

So if your high school career consisted of a lot of crying, brooding and sighing in your room, at least there’s one consolations: you did the best you could under wickedly unfair circumstances.