Posted Aug 25, 2017 on www.physiologytoday.com, article by Jean M Twenge Ph.D.
To read the entire article, "Why are so many teens depressed?", click here. For article highlights, read on…
Around 2012 to 2013, there was sudden uptick in teens saying they were experiencing symptoms of depression—feeling hopeless, not enjoying life, believing they can’t do anything right. Depressive symptoms continued to increase over the next few years, making today's teens—whom I describe in my new book, iGen—significantly more depressed than teens just a few years before.
As I found when I dug deeper, the increase in depressive symptoms was only part of the story. Happiness—which had been increasing among teens for 20 years—began to decline. Loneliness spiked sharply, and more entering college students (in the national American Freshman survey of 9 million students) said they felt depressed and overwhelmed. Even more concerning, 50% more teens in 2015 (vs. 2011) demonstrated clinically diagnosable depression in the NS-DUH national screening study. (It's important to note that all of these sources are surveys of unselected samples of teens, and notthose who seek treatment—thus they cannot be explained by greater treatment-seeking). The teen suicide rate tripled among girls ages 12 to 14 and increased by 50% among girls ages 15 to 19. The number of children and teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or self-harm doubled between 2008 and 2015. iGen'ers were experiencing a mental health crisis. As if that weren’t enough, no one seemed to know why.
Economic causes seemed unlikely; the U.S. economy improved after 2011. It wasn’t academic pressure; in the MtF surveys, teens in the 2010s say they do fewer hours of homework than teens did in the 1990s, and the time college-bound high school students spend on extracurriculars--contrary to popular belief--is about the same in the American Freshman survey. There was no cataclysmic event or political shift during that time (these data predate Trump). Factors such as income inequality and shifting family structure, mentioned by some, had been building for decades, with no sudden shift in the 2010s. So what was it?
Then it hit me. In another project, I’d found teens were spending less time with their friends in person and more time communicating electronically, with these trends accelerating after 2011. That, I realized, was around the time that smartphones became ubiquitous—when many teens (and adults) started spending nearly every waking moment looking at the phones in their hands. Sure enough, the Pew Center found that the percentage of Americans owning a smartphone crossed 50% in late 2012. That was also around the time social media became almost mandatory for teens. Smartphones and social media were also something that affected teens directly—a fundamental change in how they spent their time, not just an event in the news or a trend they heard about from their parents.
So the time sequence fit—right when smartphones became common and teens started spending less time face-to-face, their psychological well-being plummeted. The next question was whether smartphones might be linked to lower well-being among individuals. In my analyses of MtF and the CDC's Youth Risk Surveillance System data for the book, I found they were—teens who spent more time on screens were less happy, more depressed, and had more risk factors for suicide. Those links remained when possible confounding factors such as gender, race, and socioeconomic status were taken into account. [A study] randomly assigned adults to give up Facebook for a week, or not. Those who gave up Facebook ended the week happier, less lonely, and less depressed.
Not only that: No one disputes that in-person social interaction is linked to better mental health. So even if we dismiss the correlation between social media and depression—say, calling it neutral—the decline in in-person social interaction could certainly account for the increase in depression and unhappiness. And why has in-person social interaction declined? Probably because screen time increased.
None of this means you should yank the smartphone out of your teens’ hands. As other studies have also documented, moderate use of smartphones (around an hour a day) is not harmful. In my analyses of data from the Youth Risk Surveillance System survey administered by the CDC, negative effects on mental health appeared only after two or more hours a day of use. Of course, most teens (and many adults) use their smartphones much more than two hours a day (the average is six to eight hours during leisure time), so it makes sense to consider setting limits.
[It is not] OK that 50% more teens suffered from major depression in 2015 vs. just four years before. It is not OK that the suicide rate for teen girls is at its highest level since 1975. It is not OK that twice as many children and teens are now hospitalized for self-harm or suicidal thoughts. It is not OK that more teens say that they are lonely and feel hopeless.
Given the undeniably negative trends in teens' mental health and the evidence suggesting smartphone use is at least partially behind them, it makes sense to limit kids' and teens' smartphone use. As with any intervention, the risks of doing something vs. doing nothing must be considered. There doesn't seem to be much risk involved in limiting smartphone use to 90 minutes a day or less. However, doing nothing and having teens continue to spend 6+ hours a day with new media risks having these negative mental health trends continue.
If you are struggling with depression, please visit the Happy Camp Community Center. We are open Tuesday through Thursday from 9am to 4pm; we can refer you to Siskiyou County’s Behavioral Health Services. Alternatively you can contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Happy Camp Community Action, Inc. is a Non-profit organization dedicated to economic development and youth programs in Happy Camp, California and surrounding communities.