According to research published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology American kids today are more prone to serious psychological distress, major depression, and suicidal thoughts and tendencies than any previous generation.
The researchers place at least part of the blame on electronic communication and digital media and how way it changes the way we interact with other people – obviously social media and its effects aren’t something that previous generations had to manage, while also handling the typical hormones and stress of being a teen and young adult.
Electronic devices have also been shown to disrupt sleep cycles, which is a well-known symptom of and contributor to mental health issues. Study author Jean Twenge comments further:
“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.”
Young people are, like everyone else, also dealing with opioid use and addiction, which the CDC called “epidemic levels” back in 2011.
Other factors could have affected the study’s outcomes, like the fact that a push to de-stigmatize mental health could mean this generation is more willing to admit they’re suffering.
The researchers analyzed data from nearly 1 million respondents in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and found that, between 2005 and 2017, mental health issues increased in kids 12-17 and in young adults 18-25. The rate of teens reporting symptoms of major depression increased by 52%, and the rate young adults reporting psychological distress increased by 71%.
There was no recorded similar increase among older adults in the same time period – in fact, in the 65 and older set, a slight decline in psychological distress was reported. Twenge expands:
“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.”
The team hopes their work can help increase our understanding of how digital communications affect mood disorders, though many other factors could also be contributing to a generation of young people growing up disconnected and without hope for the future.
We have to hope that knowledge and continued research will eventually shed light on how to comprehensively address the obvious and growing problem with America’s youth.