Girls are nearly twice as likely as boys to be diagnosed with depression. Some psychologists have suggested that girls may just be more likely to express emotions with other people, which makes it easier to identify signs of depression. However, a recent study suggests that boys may just be better at managing levels of stress due to the role of testosterone in the brain’s reward system.
Study Shows a Gender-Distinct Circuit for Depression
In this study, conducted by Michigan State University, researchers found a single circuit in mice that activates during stress and is controlled by testosterone. The results focus on the activity between neurons in the ventral hippocampus, which become active under stress and emotion, and their activation of nucleus accumbens neurons, critical players in reward and motivation.
They saw that the activity in male brains during stress was significantly lower than in females, and this required testosterone. When they removed testosterone, however, the male mice began expressing depression-like behaviors. The team observed increased circuit activity in female brains, but when testosterone was introduced, the neurons quieted, and the female mice became resistant to depression-like behaviors.
Female Hormones Increase Stress Levels
In a different study conducted by Yale University, researchers found that the female hormone, estrogen, amplifies stress responses in the prefrontal cortex, another area of the brain responsible for decision making. In the absence of stress, both males and females performed a short-term memory task equally well. Their results were also similar when exposed to high levels of stress. However, females were more sensitive to the effects of low levels of stress, which suggests they may be more vulnerable to depression.
While increased levels of the female hormone, estrogen, can lead to mood swings, increased levels of testosterone can help regulate one’s mood. Testosterone may be more common in boys, but girls also have small amounts of it that can be regulated through self-care and physical activity.
Other Factors Contributing to Depression in Girls:
- Hormone changes during menstrual cycles
- Increased social pressures
- Higher value on social acceptance and conformity
- Stereotypes of being emotional
Ways to Naturally Regulate Hormones in Girls
- Make physical activity part of their daily routine. Just one hour of exercise at any intensity can help combat depression.
- Eat a balanced diet. Girls are particularly vulnerable to messages about dieting and body image in the media. Rather than restricting certain food groups, maintaining a balance between types of foods is key to regulating hormones and mood.
- Spend more time in the sun. Vitamin D is quickly becoming one of the world’s most popular vitamins, as people spend less time outdoors where they are exposed to this vitamin naturally. Exposure to sunlight is associated with a variety of other health benefits.
- Establish a regular sleep routine. Getting consistent sleep is just as important for one’s health as diet and exercise.
- Encourage them to notice signs of stress. Stressful situations increase levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which throws other hormones off balance. Identifying signs of stress can help girls apply healthy coping strategies to cope with these situations before they become unmanageable.
Asheville Academy Can Help
Asheville Academy for Girls is a therapeutic boarding school for girls ages 10-14 who struggle with learning, behavioral, and emotional issues. This program is social, emotional, and academically focused in order to empower girls to move forward and transition smoothly back into their home and school life. Students gain a greater sense of confidence, ability to manage emotions, and the skills to communicate effectively. We can help your family today!
Contact us at 800-264-8709 to learn more about depression in middle school girls.