Gender differences in mental health problems

It is well established knowledge that adult women suffer about twice as often from depressions than men. However, when the Young in Norway Study started, we knew little about why and when these gender differences developed. Young in Norway was one of the first studies to provide information about this issue.

Gender differences in mental illness graph

The graph shows that boys and girls experience about the same level of mental health problems in early adolescence. For boys, the level remains rather stable throughout adolescence and young adulthood – from the ages 13 to 31. However, girls are developing differently: We see a substantial increase in mental health problems from age 13 to about age 18, and a decline thereafter.

What could be the cause of this increased difference during adolescence? We found that girls experienced an increased discontent with their own appearance, which again could lead to more worries for many girls. Also, girls who entered puberty early ran an increased risk of mental health problems.

After adolescence, life tends to fall more into place, and we see the level of mental health problems among women declines in the 20s. Results from Young in Norway thus indicate that the adolescent years is a time in many women’s lives that is characterized by increased mental health problems such as depressed mood, but that such problems decrease again eventually in young adulthood.