Rates of serious psychological distress, major depression, suicidal thoughts, attempted suicide and completed suicide have increased between 2005 and 2017 among U.S. teenagers and young adults, according to National Survey on Drug Use and Health data.
The researchers indicated that a major driver of these findings could be the increased use of electronics and digital media during this period, which may have changed how young people interact with others in a way that affected mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes.
Previous evidence has indicated increases in mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes among adolescents since 2010, yet the trends in these indicators in recent years across age groups — by including teenagers, young adults and older adults from the same sample — remain unclear, according to Jean M. Twenge, PhD, professor of psychology, San Diego State University, and colleagues.
“It is unknown whether trends in mood disorder indicators and suicide-related outcomes are due to age, time period, or birth cohort, three different processes that can cause change over time,” Twenge and colleagues wrote in Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
Using data from a nationally representative survey of teens and adults in the U.S., the researchers evaluated these three trends in mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes since 2005. They analyzed responses from the survey, which included data on drug and alcohol use, mental health and other health-related issues, from more than 200,000 teens aged 12 to 17 years from 2005 to 2017 and nearly 400,000 adults from 2008 to 2017, according to a press release.
The researchers observed a 71% increase in young adults aged 18 to 25 years experiencing serious psychological distress in the previous 30 days from 2008 to 2017 (7.7% vs. 13.1%). Analysis indicated that this trend was due to time period (year) and cohort, but mainly because of cohort, with the cohorts born in the 1950s and the 1990s showing the highest percentage of serious psychological distress. Usually, psychological distress declined with age.
The rate of participants reporting major depression symptoms over the last year rose 52% in teenagers from 2005 to 2017 (8.7% vs. 13.2%) and 63% in young adults aged 18 to 25 years from 2009 to 2017 (8.1% vs. 13.2%), but was unchanged or declined slightly among those aged 26 years and older, according to the results. Analysis showed that the trend among teens was mostly attributable to time period (with almost all of the increase occurring after 2010); however, the trend was due to cohort among adults.
Twenge and colleagues found that suicide-related outcomes also increased more among younger adults than among older adults, with the percentage of young adults with suicidal thoughts or other suicide-related outcomes rising 47% from 2008 to 2017 (7% vs. 10.3%). The increase was mainly due to cohort, analysis revealed.
In addition, rates of completed suicide rose between 2008 and 2017, with a larger increase seen among younger groups aged 18 to 19 years (56% increase in prevalence) through 30 to 34 years (32% increase in prevalence).
“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 can't change their genetics or the economic situation of the country, but they can choose how they spend their leisure time,” Twenge said in the release. “Overall, make sure digital media use doesn't interfere with activities more beneficial to mental health such as face-to-face social interaction, exercise and sleep." – by Savannah Demko
Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.