New research suggests that today's teens and young adults experience depression, suicidal thoughts, and psychological stress at a higher rate than older generations.

By Renee Cherry
Updated: March 15, 2019
Photo: Stephen Simpson / Getty Images

New research suggests that the current mental health crisis (yes, we're in crisis mode) in the United States has been hitting teens and early 20-somethings the hardest. The study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that, since 2005, mental health issues among young Americans have increased at a rapid rate.

Researchers looked at results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a yearly survey of Americans age 12 and older about health-related issues. They focused on responses from more than 200,000 teenagers (ages 12 to 17) from 2005 to 2017 and almost 400,000 young adults (ages 18 to 25) from 2008 to 2017.

What they found is bleak: From 2005 to 2017, there was a 52 percent increase in teenagers who reported having a major depressive episode within the past year. From 2009 to 2017, the rate went up 63 percent among the young adult age group.

And that's not the worst of it.

From 2008 to 2017, the number of young adults who reported experiencing psychological distress within the last month increased by a whopping 71 percent-and the number of them who reported thinking about or attempting suicide increased by 47 percent. These findings line up with the increasing suicide rate in the U.S. Last year, the CDC released a report showing that suicide was one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. and that, between 1996 and 2016, 25 states saw increases in suicide rates of 30 percent or more.

However, the teenage and young adult age groups seem to be driving this overall trend: Survey responses from people over age 25 didn't show a significant increase in major depression, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or psychological distress. "These trends are weak or nonexistent among adults 26 years and over," lead study author Jean Twenge, Ph.D., stated in an APA press release.(Related: This Is How Much Teenage Girls Edit Their Photos to Make Them "Social Media Ready")

Our devices could be partly to blame, since research suggests they may be linked to mood disorders and lowered sleep quality, according to Twenge. "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," she suggested in the press release. (Here's more info on the health implications of not giving your brain enough downtime.)

If there was any lingering doubt that providing teens and young adults with mental health resources is more crucial than ever, this data should lay it to rest.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or text 741741, or chat online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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