One in four schoolgirls is depressed by the age of 14, new research has shown.
And one in 10 boys is depressed at the same age.
Researchers from the UCL Institute of Education and the University of Liverpool analysed information on the mental health of more than 10,000 children born between 2000 and 2001.
They found that, based on the teenagers’ reporting of their emotional problems, 24 per cent of girls and 9 per cent of boys suffered from depression by the time they were 14 years old.
By contrast, boys were more likely than girls to have behavioural problems – such as acting out, fighting or rebelliousness – throughout childhood and early adolescence.
Extent of problem
Emla Fitzsimons, director of the study, said: “This study highlights the extent of mental-health problems among young adolescents in the UK today.”
Teenagers from more advantaged families were less likely to have high levels of depressive symptoms than their peers from poorer homes.
Girls from mixed and white ethnic backgrounds were the most likely to report high depressive symptoms. By contrast, black African girls were least likely to report high depressive symptoms at this age.
Among boys, those from Bangladeshi and Indian backgrounds were least likely to say they suffered from depression.
The researchers asked parents to report back on their children’s mental health, when the children were three, five, seven, 11 and 14 years old. When they reached 14, the children were also asked questions about their own mental health.
The levels of emotional problems reported by parents were the same for boys and girls throughout childhood. However, by the time their children were 14, parents were reporting seeing a higher prevalence of emotional problems among girls than among boys.
Eighteen per cent of parents said that their daughters showed symptoms of depression and anxiety, compared with 12 per cent of boys.
The difference between parents’ assessment of their children’s emotional state and their children’s own reports “suggests that some parents may not be aware of their daughters' depression,” the academics state.
Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau, which is publishing the findings, said: “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 maximise the chances of early identification and access to specialist support.”