Adolescents and young adults are in the midst of a unique mental health crisis, a new study suggests on Thursday. It has been found that the incidence of depressive episodes and serious mental health problems has risen dramatically in recent years among these age groups, while it has barely reproduced or even declined for older age groups. She has spent much of her career at San Diego State University to study the attitudes and beliefs of younger generations. Recently, Twenge published a popular science book in 2017, in which she outlined her key argument that adolescents and young adults who are of legal age are particularly lonely and unconnected, in part due to the growing wealth of social media and devices such as smartphones. Their book is titled iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Less Rebellious, Tolerant, and Less Happy – And Unprepared for Adulthood.
Twenge's book and his work had their critics claim that their theory is backed up by choice and weak evidence or that other factors besides smartphones could be the real reason for a legitimate increase in teenage depression. A new study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and written by Twenge and others, seems to refute at least some of these criticisms.
Twenge and her team studied data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, a nationally representative survey of American life habits. In total, they looked at more than 600,000 Americans from different age groups who participated in the 2005-2017 survey.
Between those years, they tracked the rate of reported episodes of major depression and severe mental stress as measured by people's response to questions such as whether they have ever felt "so sad or depressed that they could not cheer." They also examined the suicide rates of how many times people have thought about suicide, made plans to execute them and actually tried.
In almost all age groups over the age of 18, the rate of severe complaints recorded last month increased between 2008 and 2017 (2008 was the first year of adult distress). However, this increase was much more dramatic in young adults.
For example, in 2008, around 5 percent of adults between the ages of 30 and 34 had serious complaints, while 6.5 percent of the same group said the same thing in 2017 – a 33 percent jump. By now, just over 8 percent of 20- and 21-year-olds had a problem in 2008, compared to 14.4 percent in 2017 – a relative increase of 78 percent.
A similar pattern applies to episodes of major depression Suicide-related outcomes: Adolescents and young adults had a higher depression rate in 2017 than they did a decade ago, while the depression rate of most age groups above 30 in 2017 was actually lower compared to 2009 (Seniors were the exception).  Younger people are more prone to depression and mood issues than older people. The findings, however, indicate that younger people today are struggling with more depression and suffering than a decade ago. And although some of this melancholy might be due to cultural factors that influence everyone to some extent, this is the hardest thing to do.
The study can not provide direct evidence of what this inequality caused common criticism of Twenge's work. However, according to Twenge, it seems impossible to exclude factors such as the Great Recession.
"If economic causes are blamed, it makes little sense for the depression to peak in 2017 with the unemployment rate at record lows and lower in the recession years when unemployment was high," she said Gizmodo. "If economic factors were to be responsible, you would also expect the increase to be highest in working-age adults directly affected by shifts in the labor market. Instead, it's the youngest ones showing the biggest rise in depression, including 12- to 17-year-olds, who are spared direct concerns about helping a family in times of economic downturn.
Twenge and her co-authors argue that smartphones have become a universal accessory since the onset of this decline in 2012, and they and similar devices must play a major role. They may make it even harder for adolescents and adolescents to sleep – lack of sleep is a known driver of inferior mental health – or the number of personal encounters that people experience with their friends and family is limited. And while these effects may also apply to millennials and older generations, the authors believe they are more influential to people in their formative years.
Regardless of the exact causes, it is known that depressed and suicidal teens are more. This is likely to be suffered as an adult, so this large wave of depression among teens could cause waves for years or decades. And since there seems to be no end to the ascent, things could get worse, at least now.
Twenge does not disregard the value of technology, even though it helps people stay mentally healthy, but they said more work should be done to understand how these devices can harm adolescents and how that damage works better can be prevented. In the very near future, she said, we could probably all, but especially teenagers, get our phones out of the bedroom, turn off our devices one hour before going to bed, and limit screen time outside work or school to two hours a day or less.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or send an SMS to the Crisis Text Line 741-741.