Updated: Jul 8, 2019
Since the late 2000s, the mental health of teens and young adults in the U.S. has declined dramatically. 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 same trends held with 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.
Mood disorder indicators increased among both men and women, but the increases were larger among women. Thus, the more pronounced increase in depression since 2011 among adolescent girls (vs. boys) found in previous research (Mojtabai et al., 2016; Twenge, Joiner, et al., 2018) extends to young adults and to indicators of psychological distress and suicide-related outcomes. The increases appeared across most racial and ethnic groups for most indicators, with the increases generally larger among White Americans. With the exception of suicide attempts, increases in mood disorder indicators were largest among Americans with the highest total family income. Scholar Immordino-Yang, states “I think this is a wakeup call,” and continues “These findings are coming together with other kinds of evidence that show we’re not supporting our adolescents in developmentally appropriate ways.”
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