UK Study: Nearly 1 in 4 Girls Depressed at Age 14

A large study on more than 10,000 children born in 2000-01 reveals a significant rate of depression among teen girls and boys.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool and University College London analyzed responses from the Millennium Cohort Study and discovered a quarter of girls (24 percent) and one in 10 boys (nine percent) are depressed at age 14.

In the study, parents are asked to report on their children’s mental health at ages three, five, seven, 11 and 14. Then, when they reached 14, the children were themselves asked questions about their depressive symptoms. The research, published with the National Children’s Bureau, also investigated links between depressive symptoms and family income.

Generally, 14-year-olds from better-off families were less likely to have high levels of depressive symptoms compared to their peers from poorer homes.

Parents’ reports of emotional problems were roughly the same for boys and girls throughout childhood, increasing from seven percent of children at age seven to 12 percent at age 11.

However, by the time they reached early adolescence at age 14, emotional problems became more prevalent in girls, with 18 percent having symptoms of depression and anxiety, compared to 12 percent of boys.

Behavior problems, such as acting out, fighting and being rebellious decreased from infancy to age five, but then increased to age 14. Boys were more likely than girls to have behavior problems throughout childhood and early adolescence.

The discovery of a wide variation between parents’ perceptions of their children’s mental health and the 14-year-olds’ own reports of their emotional problems highlights the importance of considering young people’s views on their own mental health.

“In recent years, there has been a growing policy focus on children’s mental health. However, there has been a lack of nationally representative estimates of mental health problems for this generation,” said lead author Dr. Praveetha Patalay, from the University of Liverpool.

“In other research, we’ve highlighted the increasing mental health difficulties faced by girls today compared to previous generations and this study further highlights the worryingly high rates of depression.”

Professor Emla Fitzsimons, director of the Millennium Cohort Study, said, “These stark findings provide evidence that mental health problems among girls rise sharply as they enter adolescence. And while further research using this rich data is needed to understand the causes and consequences of this, this study highlights the extent of mental health problems among young adolescents in the U.K. today.”

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said, “This study of thousands of children gives us the most compelling evidence available about the extent of mental ill-health among children in the UK. With a quarter of 14-year-old girls showing signs of depression, it’s now beyond doubt that this problem is reaching crisis point.

“Worryingly, there is evidence that parents may be underestimating their daughters’ mental health needs. Conversely, parents may be picking up on symptoms in their sons, which boys don’t report themselves. It’s vital that both children and their parents can make their voices heard to maximize the chances of early identification and access to specialist support.

“The new research also suggests that signs of depression are generally more common among children from poorer families. We know that mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum and as the government prepares to publish its plans to improve children’s well-being, it must address the overlap with other aspects of disadvantage.”

Source: University of Liverpool