New research published by the American Psychological Association has found that the rate of certain mental health disorders has increased significantly over the last decade among young adults, but not among older adults.
Lead author of the study, Jean Twenge (San Diego State University), believes the use of digital media and electronic media may be changing how people socially interact and affecting their mood.
More U.S. adolescents and young adults in the late 2010s, versus the mid-2000s, experienced serious psychological distress, major depression or suicidal thoughts, as well as more attempted suicide, reports Twenge: "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."
As reported in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Twenge and team looked at data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which has monitored drug/alcohol use and mental health among people (aged 12 and older) in the U.S. since 1971.
They compared data for more than 200,000 individuals aged 12 to 17 between 2005 and 2017 with data for nearly 400,000 people aged 18 or over between 2008 and 2017.
Among the adolescents, the rate of major depression symptoms in the previous year increased by 52% between 2005 and 2017. Among young adults (aged 18 to 25), the rate increased by 63% between 2009 and 2017 and there was also a 71% increase in reports of serious psychological distress in the previous 30 days between 2008 and 2017. Furthermore, the rate of suicidal thoughts or other suicide-related outcomes among young adults increased by 47% between 2008 and 2017.
During these same time periods, there were no significant increases in the rates of depression or psychological distress among older 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," says Twenge.
She suggests that the increased use of digital media and electronic communication may have affected adolescents and young adults more because older adults have more stable social lives that may have changed less than the social lives of younger people. Older adults may also be less likely to let social media disrupt their sleep by staying up late using their phones, for example.
"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," concludes Twenge.