WASHINGTON — Mental health issues, notably depression, increased significantly for young adults in the last ten years, and researchers pin some of the blame the rise of the popularity of digital media.
“Cultural trends in the last 10 years may have had a larger effect on mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes among younger generations compared with older generations,” says study lead author Dr. Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of the book iGen, in a release. “More U.S. adolescents and young adults in the late 2010s, versus the mid-2000s, experienced serious psychological distress, major depression or suicidal thoughts, and more attempted suicide. These trends are weak or non-existent among adults 26 years and over, suggesting a generational shift in mood disorders instead of an overall increase across all ages.”
Dr. Twenge and her team analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a nationally representative survey tracking drug and alcohol use, mental health, and other health issues in Americans over age 12 since 1971. The research team examined survey responses from over 200,000 youths between the ages of 12 to 17 from 2005 to 2017. They also analyzed 400,000 individuals over the age of 18 between 2008 to 2017.
Overall, the rate of major depression symptoms reported in the last year jumped 52% in adolescents between 2005 and 2017 (from 8.7 percent to 13.2 percent), and 63% in young adults 18 to 25 (from 8.1 percent to 13.2 percent). Young adults also reported psychological distress symptoms in the last 30 days 71% more between 2008 to 2017 (from 7.7 percent to 13.1 percent). Suicide-related thoughts and outcomes increased 47% between 2008 and 2017, affecting 10.3 percent of young adults (up from 7 percent).
Conversely, there was no significant increase in older adults battling depression or psychological distress over the same period. In fact, there was even a small decrease in seniors reporting symptoms of psychological distress. Twenge believes that older adults have more stables lives socially and and don’t rely on social media or digital devices to connect with peers in the way that young adults do.
“Young people can’t change their genetics or the economic situation of the country, but they can choose how they spend their leisure time. First and most important is to get enough sleep. Make sure your device use doesn’t interfere with sleep — don’t keep phones or tablets in the bedroom at night, and put devices down within an hour of bedtime,” says Twenge. “Overall, make sure digital media use doesn’t interfere with activities more beneficial to mental health such as face-to-face social interaction, exercise and sleep.”
The study was published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.