new study in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry has found that adolescent girls worldwide are experiencing increasing rates of depression and anxiety. The review, led by Dr. William Bor of the Mater Children’s Hospital in South Brisbane, Australia, examined 19 studies from 12 countries. Teenage girls in the U.K., Northern Europe, and China seemed especially hard-hit.

The review cited cultural issues, body image pressures, early sexualization, and growing economic inequality as contributing factors but highlighted school stress as a common source of growing mental health problems: “The school factor is the common denominator and the most likely factor across the multiple countries.”

These data point to an understanding of depression that we at Boston MindCare have long believed makes the most sense: that it is an illness arising from stress-induced brain damage, which may then lead to the neurotransmitter imbalance that pharmaceutical companies have been targeting for years with mixed success, perhaps because the target is an effect of the illness rather than a cause. The newest treatments for depression – transcranial magnetic stimulation, brain implants, and ketamine infusion therapy – target broken brain circuits rather than brain transmitters, finally recognizing that the problem may be rooted in the damaged connections that might then be leading to deficient neurotransmitter activity.

If this understanding of depression-as-brain-circuit-damage were more widespread, perhaps some of the misunderstanding and stigma associated with the illness could be dispelled. “I have stress-induced brain injury” paints a much more precise picture of what is going on than “I have depression;” perhaps a day will come when an understanding of depression as brain injury – a medical condition – will compel more medical centers, insurance carriers, policy makers, and others to stop discriminating against its sufferers.

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