Americans are more depressed now than they have been in decades, a recent study has found. San Diego State University (SDSU) psychology professor Jean M. Twenge analyzed data from nearly 7 million adolescents and adults from across the country and found that more people reported symptoms of depression — including sleeplessness and trouble concentrating — compared to the 1980s.
Twenge’s findings show that teenagers in the 2010s experience memory trouble 38 percent more often than their 1980s counterparts. Teens are also 74 percent more likely to have trouble sleeping and twice as likely to see a professional for mental health issues. College students in the study reported feeling overwhelmed by academic and personal demands 50 percent more often than their 1980s counterparts.
“Previous studies found that more people have been treated for depression in recent years, but that could be due to more awareness and less stigma,” Twenge told ScienceDaily. “This study shows an increase in symptoms most people don’t even know are connected to depression, which suggests adolescents and adults really are suffering more.”
Twenge may have some cause for concern. The World Health Organization predicts that depression will come second to heart disease as the leading cause of disability by 2020. In the United States, depression affects 9.1 percent of adults, a portion of whom will likely see their condition transform into major depressive disorder.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depressed people often lose interest in everyday activities and experience persistent feelings of sadness. Other symptoms include lack of energy, loss of appetite, feelings of worthlessness, slow thinking and body movements.
For teenagers, depression can be particularly harmful when not treated immediately. Teen depression counts among the leading causes of disability among people between the ages of 14 and 55. Today, more than 10 percent of adolescents develop a depressive disorder before the age of 18, often triggered by traumatic life events and the stress of adolescent change. These episodes have the potential to distort one’s feelings, actions, and perceptions, ultimately triggering a mental disorder.
No matter a person’s age, depression still carries the risk of suicide. Experts say that 90 percent of people who commit suicide suffer from depression. It’s especially true among young people, many of whom recount feelings of worthlessness during their adolescent years. A January CDC report found that nearly 4,600 people between the ages of 10 and 24 commit suicide each year, making it the third leading cause of death among that age group. The report also linked high use of alcohol and drugs to incidences of suicide.
Even though the SDSU study determined that teen suicide rates have decreased, Twenge acknowledged that the increase in reports of depression symptoms among Americans should worry the mental health community. She concluded the study by affirming that tackling clinical depression among Americans will require much more than antidepressants.
While depression treatment has evolved in recent years with the advent of the collaborative care model — a family-friendly strategy that integrates specialized mental health care services with primary care — medical professionals express difficulty in compelling the clinically depressed to seek treatment, partly because stigma still exists around depression and other mental ailments. That’s why the medical industry has been exploring new tools to help people assess their mental health in a comfortable setting, like a mental health screening kiosk in grocery stores that can determine one’s mental state and refers to them to services.