More young adults in the U.S. are experiencing mental health issues, and digital media usage might be partly to blame, said a new study.
Between 2005 and 2017, the rate of adolescents reporting symptoms consistent with major depression in the last 12 months jumped 52 percent, according to the study published Thursday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Abnormal Psychology, run by the American Psychological Association.
The study found a 63 percent increase in young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 reporting symptoms of depression between 2009 and 2017. It also showed significant increases in the rates of young adults who reported serious psychological distress and suicidal thoughts or suicide-related outcomes during similar time periods.
Researchers also note there is no similar increase among older adults during corresponding time periods.
Jean Twenge, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at San Diego State University, said digital media might play a role in the increase among young adults.
“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,” Twenge said in a statement.
Ian Gotlib, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Neurodevelopment, Affect, and Psychopathology (SNAP) Laboratory, said genetics can be ruled out as a potential factor because the increase in reports of mental health issues happens too quickly.
“It’s correlational, but what’s increased with depression is the use of social media with kids,” said Gotlib, who was not affiliated with the study. “And I don’t think that should be underestimated.”
A Pew Research survey released last month revealed 70 percent of teens believe anxiety and depression are critical issues among peers, even more than bullying or drug and alcohol use.
Several other studies have found a rise in depression among teens and young adults, leaving many experts to wonder how big a role social media might contribute.
“These results suggest a need for more research to understand how digital communication versus face-to-face social interaction influences mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes and to develop specialized interventions for younger age groups,” Twenge said.
Gotlib said having conversations with your kids is a good starting point, as well as paying attention to their digital media habits. “I would just watch for what looks to be an inability to not be with your phone,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean depression but it has that potential.”
Read more at usatoday.com.