A new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology reports that American teens and young adults born after 1995 experience significantly more mental health issues than older cohorts. Specifically, Americans aged 12 to 25 after the year 2011 exhibited a surge in psychological distress, major depression, and suicidal ideation.
As mindbodygreen reports, the study is based on survey responses from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which has been tracking alcohol use, drug use, and mental health since 1972. The team behind the recent study compiled responses from 200,000 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 that were collected from 2005 to 2017. Afterward, they compared the answers to the same metrics from 400,000 young adults aged 18 and older.
“We found a substantial increase in major depression or suicidal thoughts, psychological distress, and more attempted suicides after 2010, versus the mid-2000s, and that increase was by far the largest in adolescents and young adults,” said Jean Twenge, lead author of the study and a professor of psychology at San Diego State University. “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.”
Between 2009 and 2017, rates of depression among kids ages 14 to 17 increased by more than 60%. The increases were nearly as steep among those ages 12-13 (47%) and 18-21 (46%), and rates roughly doubled among those 20-21. A prime suspect? Social media. https://t.co/z2IztdhaYj
— The Raben Group (@TheRabenGroup) March 14, 2019
Twenge believes that the surge in mental health issues among this group is unlikely to be influenced by genetics or economic struggles, instead suggesting that it is connected to the increase in social media use among teens and young adults, as NBC News reports. She points to a study released last year that examined approximately 11,000 adolescents in Britain and found that heavy social media users were two to three times more likely to experience depression than non-users.
“Recently, there’s been a number of studies showing that those who spend more time on digital media are more likely to be depressed and unhappy.”
Another contributing factor may be a lack of sleep, as teens are sleeping less than previous generations, and this might also be linked to social media use. Mary Fristad, Vice Chair and Director of Research & Psychological Services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, believes that the results of the study are consistent with what she experiences in her clinic. As CBS News reports, the blue light from phones and computer screens can interfere with sleep onset and change melatonin production, which can in turn cause increases in anxiety, depression, and suicidality.
Twenge stresses the importance of parents understanding the warning signs of depression and suicide as well as the effects of too much social media use on mental health. For example, restricting phone use in the bedroom and within an hour before bed and encouraging more face-to-face time with friends and family are simple steps that can make a big difference.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.