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Mental health issues have increased substantially among young adults

According to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, mental health issues have significantly increased among young adults in the United States over the past decade. However, no corresponding trend was found among older adults.

Study lead author Dr. Jean Twenge is a professor of Psychology at San Diego State University.

“More U.S. adolescents and young adults in the late 2010s, versus the mid-2000s, experienced serious psychological distress, major depression or suicidal thoughts, and more attempted suicide,” said Dr. 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.”

The investigation was focused on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a survey that has tracked mental health issues in individuals over age 12 since 1971. The researchers analyzed survey responses from more than 200,000 adolescents and almost 400,000 adults.

The rate of adolescents reporting symptoms of major depression increased by 52 percent from 2005 to 2017. Among young adults between 18 and 25, major depressive symptoms increased by 63 percent and reports of psychological distress increased by 71 percent.

In addition, the rate of young adults with suicidal thoughts or other suicide-related outcomes increased by 47 percent. On the other hand, depression and psychological distress did not increase 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,” said Dr. Twenge. She believes this trend may be partially due to increased use of digital media and electronic communication, which could have changed modes of social interaction enough to affect mood disorders.

Dr. Twenge explained that the increase in digital media use may have had a bigger impact on teens and young adults because older adults’ social lives are more stable and have changed less than teens’ social lives have in the last ten years.

“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,” she said.

The study is published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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