One in four teenage girls experiences a low mood

An article by Carme Escales published on 4th July 2023 in el diari de l'educació

Sexual violence, less physical activity, being an immigrant, dieting and smoking are some of the reasons

Feeling sadness, hopelessness towards the future and difficulty or problems in reconciling or maintaining sleep are some of the manifestations expressed in a questionnaire by more than 6,000 girls and boys, secondary school students from high schools in the regions of Central Catalonia. These are the variables used to evaluate the state of mind of these teenagers and the count reveals that 18.6% of them have a low state of mind. The fact that calls attention is that in the case of boys, only 11.6% accuse this state of low mood, while in girls the percentage rises to 25.1%.

The difference between genders is mainly explained, according to the research team, "by contextual factors that are also related to mood. The sexual violence suffered by girls plays a very important role, but it also affects the fact that girls spend less time doing physical activity than boys (57% do not meet the minimum recommended by the WHO). Being an immigrant, dieting and smoking tobacco daily are also determinants, which are also associated with a low mood only in girls. On the other hand, risky alcohol consumption is only associated with boys.

Regarding the social variables of exposure, a greater prevalence of low mood is observed in both boys and girls with a disadvantaged socioeconomic situation. Having lower grades, abusing the mobile phone or suffering harassment are other associated factors that do not seem to have gender differences. On the other hand, most of the difference between genders in the prevalence of low mood is due to having suffered sexual violence.

Focus on the state of mind

As explained by the UVic-UCC researcher who led the study, Helena González-Casals, the highest or lowest degree of mood is delimited by estimating the responses to symptoms such as sadness and its frequency and intensity, sleeping problems, if they are more or less punctual, and everything that is asked in the survey. "We know that a low mood does not necessarily lead to depression, but it is known that a prolonged low mood over time can lead to a diagnosis of depression or anxiety, which contributes to it."

Therefore, one of the objectives of this investigation is to identify it in order to be able to take preventive action, making sure that the low mood does not become chronic.

But it is not the only intention of the investigation -says González Casals-. "We also want to describe this phenomenon to see how far it is going and to face the results towards promotional actions that prevent reaching a prolonged low mood over time." That is, the research work studies the situation and how this state of mind is related to other variables and, from there, the data is available to anyone who wants to develop some action.

Therefore, the results of this investigation, published openly in the journal Journal of Affective Disorders, can be useful to carry out preventive work and detect discomfort and symptoms before a worsening or chronification occurs and a mood changes lower to more severe disorders, such as anxiety or depression.

The research was carried out by the inter-university group Epi4Health, participated by the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), the Manresa campus of the University of Vic-Universidad Central de Cataluña (UVic-UCC) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). And the data that have been worked on are part of the project led by UManresa (University of Vic, Universidad Central de Cataluña), DESKcohort, which consists of following up over time people from 12 to 18 years old in schools of Central Catalonia to analyse their behaviour or relevant aspects that may affect different social aspects of their life, their education or their health.

Changing mood

As explained on the Faros portal of the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Barcelona, the mood, sad or irritable, most of the time is one of the symptoms that includes depression, which is the most frequent manifestation of the disorders affective But for the specialists to establish a diagnosis of depression, this symptom must occur together with some others and must last for a certain time.

It is also known that the majority of mental disorders begin in adolescence, so studies like this one make it possible to interpellate the intervention agents so that, when actions are carried out, “they keep in mind that they must be carried out differently for boys and girls because we know that there are differences", says Helena González Casal, who is preparing her doctorate with the UOC, within the Salut i Psicologia program under the direction of Marina Bosque, researcher principal of the Epi4health group of the UOC's Health Sciences Studies, linked to the eHealth Center, and of Albert Espelt of the UAB.

The investigation continues and will do so by measuring other aspects of mood, such as the impact of the pandemic on these adolescents. They also want to see if the urban or rural environment has an influence, to outline specific actions or even more precise preventive interventions.