A new report billed as the first comprehensive assessment of the well-being of Indiana's girls spotlights the tough years Hoosier girls face starting in middle school, when many of them are troubled by depression, falling grades and concerns about their weight.

The report released last week by St. Mary's College, a Roman Catholic women's college in South Bend, contains findings on the health, mental health, well-being and educational progress of Indiana girls ages 10 to 19.

Many of the findings are disturbing and suggest that parents, teachers and healthcare professionals need to pay closer attention to signs that a girl needs help.

One of the most disturbing findings is that 14.5 percent of Indiana high school girls reported in 2011 that they had been raped at some point in their lives. Those figures, from data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rank Indiana second among the 46 states that sent data to the federal agency.

The report's findings suggest that Indiana's girls generally have a harder time than boys during the often turbulent years as they move from middle school to high school.

The profile of Indiana girls raises more concerns...

Indiana's girls had rates of inactivity and depression higher than the national average for girls. Twenty percent of Indiana's high school girls said in 2011 they did not get even an hour's worth of physical activity on any day in a given week, compared with 12 percent of boys.

The report shows that in 2011, 18.5 percent of Indiana girls in high school were overweight, and 11.5 percent of them were obese - both rates higher than the national average for girls and higher than their male Indiana classmates.

A growing number of Indiana girls also face feelings of sadness and hopelessness as they enter middle school, with those feelings peaking in the ninth grade, when about a third of them reported in 2012 such feelings of despair. About a fifth of Indiana's eighth-grade girls reported having suicidal thoughts.

The findings suggest that the transition from elementary to high school is especially difficult for girls. New academic challenges coupled with emerging social issues can leave a teen conflicted. The pressure can be overwhelming.

Parents need to be on the lookout for signs that their child is struggling. Even the most subtle changes should be addressed.