Rise In Teen Depression Possibly Linked To Screen Time

March 18, 2019

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A study done at San Diego State University found the percentage of teens and young adults experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts, and general malase has increased significantly over the last ten years. While those feelings have also increased among those older than 26, it wasn't nearly as much as with the younger people.

Psychologist Jean Twenge, who led the study calls such a significant increase in negative psychological states "among our vulnerable population of teens and young adults is absolutely heartbreaking." Analyzing data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted by the U.S. government to track mental health and substance use in individuals age 12 and over across the country, they found the rate of individuals reporting symptoms consistent with major depression over the past year increased 52 percent in teens and 63 percent in young adults over a decade. Girls were more vulnerable than boys, showing one out of every five teenage girls had experienced major depression in the previous year.

Understanding exactly why these trends are on the rise is always a challenge, says Twenge, since researchers can only point out correlations, not causes. Although she thinks the rise in smartphone and social media use is a significant factor. In 2009 about half of high school seniors visited social media sites every day. That number is now about 85 percent, with Instagram and Snapchat replacing Facebook as the primary sites that young people visit.

The biggest issue seems to be the amount of time teens and young adults spend with their phones and social media. Earlier research found the more time they spend, the greater the risk of depressive symptoms. Since face-to-face personal contact has been proven beneficial for mental health, it would appear that contact via text and social media doesn't elicit the same results.