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13 March 2006
Teenage Girls Are Depressed – Well, Duh!
by Katherine Burnett-Watson

A recent study found that around 10 percent of women aged 15 to 24 have what is called a major depressive disorder, and a further 10 percent experience mild depression. Researchers expressed surprise and shock at these numbers, but my answer to these results was, “Yes, and this is a surprise because?...” Seriously, anyone who has been a teenage girl or young woman (or man, for that matter) must have suffered some kind of depression during their young adulthood.

Not meaning to be flippant, but what kind of teen life are you living if you don’t get depressed sometimes? The term “teen angst” was invented for a reason. Now I’m not suggesting that the 10 percent of young women who report major depressive disorders is a number that should be shrugged off, but if these statistics are to be believed, then there are 80 percent of young women who make the transition from childhood to adulthood without experiencing any form of depression. I’d like to know, who are these women and why was I not one of them?

High school, far from being the best years of your life (and what a depressing life it would have been if this analogy were true), are fraught with so many pitfalls and such a steep learning curve, it really is a wonder how we make it through at all.

I was the poster-girl for teen angst, being the last girl in my grade to need a bra. In fact, my sister, who was two years younger than me, needed one before I did. I wore glasses (and still do, but they’re infinitely more hip now) had braces fitted to my teeth, and had the craziest white girl afro you’ve ever seen (why did no one explain to me the miracle of styling products?). I was intelligent, excelled in class and was a keen member of my school’s drama club. So why wasn’t I the most popular girl in school?

Well, boys didn’t like me in “that way”: I was always too loud, too ready to give my opinion (the fact that I had one at all was off-putting to the kind of boys I daydreamed about), and we’ve already discussed the breast fiasco.

Combine this with raging hormones, wearisome decisions about “your future”, trying to live up to your parents’ expectations, and trying to survive high school in general, it’s no wonder that teenagers and young adults are depressed.

Even the cool kids - who I so desperately wanted to be like - were just as miserable as me. In the years since leaving school I have befriended one of the “cool girls”, who confessed to me she was miserable all through high school because she felt she had to pretend to like her cool friends so everyone would think she was cool too. At least I had fun with my geek friends. And where are the cool kids now? It’s hard to get by on “cool” alone once you’re out of high school, and burping the alphabet is not a talent that is highly regarded in the work place, unless you work for a soda testing facility.

The study also went on to disclose a potential link between depression and obesity in adulthood. I look at these findings in two ways. Are they saying that women who are heavier are more depressed, or depressed girls are going to be heavier than girls who are not depressed? Either way, the intelligent response to these facts is surely, “Well, duh!” Is it surprising to find that girls who are heavy are more likely to be depressed than skinny girls? Surely the constant references to “thin is in” in the mass media and regular tauntings of; “Hey Fatty-fat-fat-fat?” wouldn’t negatively affect anyone’s mental health, would it?

And if the inverse is true, that depressed girls weigh more than girls who aren’t depressed, citing depression as the reason for the weight gain, that’s hardly surprising either. What’s the first thing you feel like doing if you’ve had a crappy day? It’s certainly not going for a 10 mile run and then fixing yourself a healthy salad, is it? More like planting your face in the dessert section of your local supermarket and drowning your sorrows in a carton of Ben and Jerry’s.

At least when I was going through my teenage years I had my good friend Molly Ringwald to share my trials and tribulations with. Sure, she was on my TV and I was on the couch with a tub of popcorn, but Molly taught me that even the coolest girl had problems at home and never felt like she fitted in. And that a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who makes her own clothes can still get the jock, and that at least my life wasn’t so bad that my parents forgot my sixteenth birthday. Although watching these movies didn’t make my immediate situation any better, they made me realize that I wasn’t the only one who was feeling this way. Now, I know that these cheesy teen films were clichéd, but they were awesome!

That’s why teenage girls are depressed these days. What teen movies tell them it’s alright to be a geek, or that all girls have a tough time in their teenage years? None! Movies now are in the style of Hey Dude, Where’s My Car?, where the girls are all hot chicks with no brains who don’t even matter to the storyline, or American Pie, where the movie focuses on a group of teenage boys, all trying to get the hot chick, before they end up having to “settle” for the geeky girl who does herself with her flute. Where are the female-empowering scripts? Teenage girls don’t see Charlize Theron busting balls in her new movie Aeon Flux as a realistic role model. And are they really meant to believe Lindsay Lohan’s girl-out-of-place in Mean Girls as a sympathetic character?

You really want to see a change in depression levels and teenage girls. Bring back Molly Ringwald!

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