Melbourne University child psychiatry professor Alasdair Vance said childhood depression had increased fourfold in the past 30 years, was affecting children earlier and was actually changing their genetic structure.
“The genetic material changes its configuration so that it is less likely to produce particular proteins. Genes don’t change that quickly — it’s the environmental influence,” he told an audience of 250 at Federation Square in a conversation with Dr Freier and Women’s Forum Australia director Melinda Tankard-Reist.
Professor Vance said 100,000 Australian children were being treated for depression. By 2020 depression would be second to cardiac problems in the World Health Organisation list of most significant disorders.
Ms Tankard-Reist said Australian culture was toxic for girls, leading to more self-harm, body-image dissatisfaction, eating disorders and lower self-esteem. “They are now expected to be hot saucy tweens on the prowl rather than active, healthy girls.”
She said girls were being prematurely sexualised, bombarded by messages from a “pornified” culture long before they were able to cope.
“Kids aren’t allowed to be kids very long any more. One-in-five 12-year-old girls is using vomiting and fasting to keep weight down and a quarter of young girls would like plastic surgery.
“There are now gossip magazines for five and six-year-olds, telling them how to look hot and catch a boy. There are pole-dancing classes for children in Sydney,” she said.
“Priceline has a range of make-up for kids, including Hugh Heffner’s ‘Tie Me to The Bedpost’ lip gloss. Girls should be told this is sleazy old grandpa lip gloss.”