Gender. Gender. It seems it has become a complicated topic but one that is worthy of our attention. While we like to think boys and girls are created equal (p.s.- they are), they do differentiate when it comes to the case of depression. So turn on your listening
ears eyes. Wait, listening eyes doesn’t work. Correction: Open those pretty eagle eyes and pay close attention. The details are sometimes minor; however, it is vital we catch the little red flags that occasionally wave across our sight unbeknownst to the most astute parent.
Whether these differences are the result of a biological component, environmental influence or societal impact, science has yet to pinpoint but until they do it is important to note they do in fact exist. Always remember the following: Your child does not have to experience every symptom listed to qualify for a diagnosis of depression. Conversely, your child may experience some of the symptoms and not be truly depressed. It is important to sort out the scenario with a mental health professional if you are concerned your child may be struggling with depression or any other mental illness. Don’t forget there is overlapping in symptom presentation among depression, anxiety, ADHD and OCD. Here we go. For all the parents of young girls this is when you should take notice.
Girls are more likely to exhibit internalizing behaviors. What this means is any problematic behavior you may be looking for is aimed towards the child herself. For a parent or caregiver, it can be a little more difficult to recognize because some of the symptoms are simply swimming around your girl’s head. Internalizing basically means she is more likely to self-harm than to harm outwardly. You can find this in the following behaviors:
- Social withdrawal
- Negative self-talk
- Frequent somatic complaints (headaches, stomachaches, physical pain of any kind, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, rashes – no underlying medical cause will be present)
- Obsessions and compulsions
- Cutting or other self-injury behaviors
- Presentation of anxiety
- Feelings of sadness, loneliness
- Overeating and undereating (may or may not develop into an eating disorder)
- Substance abuse (including the misuse of prescription medications)
For the rest of the parents or caregivers of young boys this is when you should take note. Boys are more likely to turn their feelings of depression outward in what psychologists like to call – externalizing behaviors.
- Feelings of anger, aggression and irritability
- Engaging in physical altercations and violence
- Engaging in destruction of property
- Hyperactive and impulsive
- Delinquency or conduct problems (threatening, harassing, stealing, setting fires, bullying, lying, skipping school)
- Anti-social behavior
Studies suggest girls are more likely to experience depression; however, the reason for this is unknown. What I have seen in my own experience as a therapist is boys are just as likely to grapple with depression but they are less likely to be classified as depressed for a few reasons: Anger and aggression in boys is not typically seen by the general public as a symptom of depression rather a display of masculinity and, therefore, social construct and stereotypes contribute to the false concept that males are angry not depressed. Culturally speaking, boys and young men are not encouraged to discuss emotions openly, cry or feel sad as a result they turn their sadness outward. Think to yourself about this. We discourage our boys from properly expressing emotion because we consider it too weak for our young men. Boys are less likely than girls to self-report emotional struggles, less likely to seek treatment and more likely to seek answers from a primary care physician rather than a mental health specialist. Girls are more likely to attempt suicide but boys are more likely to follow through with the act. Either way, I have seen it and I can say our boys and girls are struggling with great equality.
In closing, please be aware that depression doesn’t express itself according to gender categories. It isn’t neat and tidy like the DSM-V demonstrates. It isn’t just a check off list of symptoms. Boys can express as many internalizing behaviors as girls. For example, there is a high correlation between alcoholism and depression in boys, which would be considered a self-harming behavior. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are several ways in which girls demonstrate aggressive behavior, which we wouldn’t typically attribute to females. All of our children are individuals and pain can be expressed in a myriad of ways. It is most important to pay attention and intervene early. Boys and girls, who receive treatment are less likely to spiral into clinical depression. Seek out local mental health professionals. Talking never hurt anyone.
The best way to deal with depression is to prevent its development. Look for 3 easy ways to improve your child’s mental health. To learn more about childhood depression, read my article here.