Facing the P-word: Handling puberty and depression

  • By Dr. T Deepa Porkodi

Puberty changes include the onset of the menstrual cycle in girls, increase in the body fat and development of curves, development of axillary and pubic hair, development of facial hair in boys, thickening of voice. With so many changes taking place at the body level, it becomes very hard for the child to cope with it mentally. Add peer pressure to it and you will find that puberty is the major cause for several mental and personality disorders in adolescents.
As per research studies, at least 10-15% of adolescents show some form of mental disorder at any given time. Little wonder then that adolescents are a difficult lot to handle with their arrogance, pessimism, irritability, mood swings and depression!

Schizophrenia, a chronic mental disorder has its roots in puberty. The way you handle the puberty issues can have a serious impact on future mental ailments that you may suffer.

Puberty can be either precocious (early-onset) or late-onset. In either case, it is associated with a lot of depression.

Girls have a problem handling precocious puberty. Precocious puberty is when the onset of puberty changes is earlier than the normal age. Girls who have attained puberty earlier cannot relate to the other girls in their age group who have not yet attained it. This gives rise to a number of symptoms in them:

  1. Psychosomatic complaints like frequent headaches, abdominal pains, insomnia or over-sleeping, tremors and palpitations.
  2. Eating disorders.
  3. Depression.
  4. Insecurity.
  5. Image consciousness and constant obsession with her looks and appearances.
  6. Anxiety.
  7. Suicide attempts.

Early maturers cannot relate to their peer group. There is a sense of isolation in them that causes depression. Since their bodies are sexually developed they end up becoming sexually active early on in life. Such girls also show a large incidence of cutting classes, dropping out of school and indulging in substance abuse and alcoholism.

In the case of boys, the major issue for concern is the late-onset of puberty. Peer pressure gets too much to handle. Attaining puberty is a landmark event for boys, a much awaited event. There is so much hype around it, that if a boy fails to attend puberty around the same time as his friends, he becomes the subject of ridicule. This may lead to a lot of pessimism, depression, loss of self-worth, negative self- perception and suicidal tendencies.
Early development of puberty may cause the boys to become over-confident and they may end up indulging in substance abuse, suicide attempts and juvenile delinquency.

Dealing with pubertal problems:

Kids go through a lot of problems emotionally during this period. Parents are the first ones to notice that something is amiss. Your child may be smart enough to deal with his problems and may return back to his original state after a few days of being depressed. At times, if the problem is too serious, your child may want to talk about it but not know how to initiate the talks.
Be gentle when talking on sensitive issues. Make your child feel reassured and supported and loved. Do not panic and do not blame yourself for the problems your child is going through.
In many cases though, the child may find it embarrassing or awkward to talk to his parents. In such cases talking to a mental health professional like a counsellor helps immensely. Multiple therapy sessions with the school counsellor can be of great help, both to the child as well as the parents!

Remember that mental and emotional problems in puberty are common and seeking help from a professional is the right way of handling it.