Home Articles Depression and Suicide Rates Are Rising Sharply in Young Americans, New Report Says. This May Be One Reason Why
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Depression and Suicide Rates Are Rising Sharply in Young Americans, New Report Says. This May Be One Reason Why

Since the late 2000s, the mental health of teens and young adults in the U.S. has declined dramatically. That’s the broad conclusion of a new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

Between 2009 and 2017, rates of depression among kids ages 14 to 17 increased by more than 60%, the study found. The increases were nearly as steep among those ages 12 to 13 (47%) and 18 to 21 (46%), and rates roughly doubled among those ages 20 to 21. In 2017—the latest year for which federal data are available—more than one in eight Americans ages 12 to 25 experienced a major depressive episode, the study found.

The same trends held when the researchers analyzed the data on suicides, attempted suicides and “serious psychological distress”—a term applied to people who score high on a test that measures feelings of sadness, nervousness and hopelessness. Among young people, rates of suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts all increased significantly, and in some cases more than doubled, between 2008 and 2017, the study found.

These findings were based on data collected from more than 600,000 people by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual nationwide mental-health survey conducted by a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“I think this is quite a wake-up call,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor of psychology and education at the University of Southern California (who was not affiliated with the new study). “These findings are coming together with other kinds of evidence that show we’re not supporting our adolescents in developmentally appropriate ways.”

One of the study’s authors agrees. “There is an overwhelming amount of data from many different sources, and it all points in the same direction: more mental health issues among American young people,” says Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of iGen, a book about how technology affects the lives of young people.

What’s causing today’s young people so much anguish? “This is always a tough question to answer, as we can’t prove for sure what the causes are,” Twenge says. “But there was one change that impacted the lives of young people more than older people, and that was the growth of smartphones and digital media like social media, texting and gaming.”

While older adults also use these technologies, “their adoption among younger people was faster and more complete, and the impact on their social lives much larger,” Twenge says.

While not all the evidence is consistent, a substantial amount of research has found associations between heavy technology use and poor mental health outcomes among adolescents and young adults. Research aside, many parents, teachers, guidance counselors and others who work with young people say social media and heavy technology use are a problem.

The way young people…

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