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Gender Differences in Depression Appear at Age 12

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May 31, 2017, News

Gender differences in depression diagnosis and symptoms start to appear around the age of 12, a new study reports.

The analysis, based on existing studies that looked at more than 3.5 million people in more than 90 countries, confirmed that depression affects far more females than males.

The study, published by the journal Psychological Bulletin, should convince doubters that depression largely, but not entirely, affects females, says co-author Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology and gender and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The gender gap was evident in the earliest data studied by co-authors Hyde; Rachel Salk, now a postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Lyn Abramson, a professor of psychology at UW–Madison. “The gap was already present at age 12, which is earlier than previous studies have found,” says Hyde. We used to think that the gender difference emerged at 13 to 15 years but the better data we examined has pushed that down to age 12.”

The gender difference tapers off somewhat after adolescence, “which has never been identified, but the depression rate is still close to twice as high for women,” Hyde says.

Puberty, which occurs around age 12 in girls, could explain the onset, Hyde says. “Hormonal changes may have something to do with it, but it’s also true that the social environment changes for girls at that age. As they develop in puberty, they face more sexual harassment, but we can’t tell which of these might be responsible.”

Although the data did not cover people younger than 12, “there are processes going on at 11 or 12 that are worth thinking about, and that matters in terms of intervening,” Hyde says. “We need to start before age 12 if we want to prevent girls from sliding into depression. Depression is often quite treatable. People don’t have to suffer and face increased risk for the many related health problems.”

Read the press release from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  The study abstract is available on the Psychological Bulletin®  website.

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