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When it comes to depression, the mental illness doesn't discriminate. And yet a new study from the journal Pediatrics found that teenage girls are taking antidepressants at a much higher rate than teenage boys, whose usage rate has actually declined during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The easy answer is to conclude is that the mental health of teenage boys has improved, but study authors from Michigan, Illinois and Massachusetts don't think that's the case. Instead, they surmise that many males simply stopped getting the mental healthcare they need.

"In males, it’s theoretically possible that this reflects improved mental health, but I’m struggling with that explanation," University of Michigan Medical School pediatrician and lead author Kao-Ping Chua told NBC News . "Given that everybody’s mental health got worse, I would have expected that boys’ antidepressant dispensing would have at least remained stable, not decrease."

Looking at his medical practice as an example, Chua thinks because many male patients stopped going to the doctor's office, depression and other mental illness went undetected and untreated.

"There was something happening to make male adolescents not come in for mental health," he told the news outlet. "They didn’t go to their doctors. They skipped physicals."

The researchers uncovered this gender gap by first examining data from the IQVIA Longitudinal Prescription Database, which captures information on medication prescriptions to patients. They specifically looked at Americans between the ages of 12 to 25 between the years 2016 and 2022.

They performed statistical analysis to arrive at a number called the "monthly antidepressant dispensing rate," which is the monthly number of people being given medication per 100,000 people.

The researchers determined that the overall monthly antidepressant dispensing rate increased by 66.3 percent from January 2016 to December 2022. Unsurprisingly, the rate increased particularly rapidly starting during the pandemic shutdown of March 2020.

But if you break the dispensing rate down by gender, it turns out that young women and teenage girls were receiving far more of the drugs while teenage boys — ages from 12 to 17 — experienced a decline. (Young men ages 18 to 25 saw no change.)

The trend is worrisome because women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, and yet adult men in America make up the bulk of suicides at 80 percent.

More research is needed. But there's no question that addressing the mental health needs of teenage boys would go a long way to fostering mentally stable adult men.

More on depression: Scientists Find Link Between ADHD, Depression and Hypersexuality

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