The number of teens reporting mental health issues has risen significantly over the last decade and experts are pointing to social media use as one of the culprits. Recent studies have shown that higher rates of social media use is associated with increased social anxiety, social isolation, and feelings of loneliness. Now, a new study is showing just how much mental health issues among teens has risen along with the rise of digital media. The research has been published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
For the study, lead author Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, and her team analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health covering U.S. individuals age 12 and over that had been tracked since 1971. Survey responses from over 200,000 adolescents age 12 to 17 from 2005 to 2017, and nearly 400,000 adults age 18 and over from 2008 to 2017 were used as the basis for the study. The researchers focused specifically on information involving drug and alcohol use, mental health, and other health-related issues.
Twenge and her team found sharp increases in the number of young adults and adolescents who reported negative psychological symptoms that correlated with the rise of social media use. The rate of adolescents reporting symptoms consistent with major depression in the last 12 months increased 52 percent in adolescents from 2005 to 2017, rising from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 13.2 percent in 2017. In young adults age 18 to 25, it increased 63 percent from 2009 to 2017, rising from 7.0 percent to 10.3 percent.
Coincidentally, the greatest spike in symptoms occurred in 2011, around the same time social media became the hot new way to communicate. No corresponding increase was observed in older adults. There was even a slight decline for people over the age of 65. This may be because digital media use is more popular among teens and young adults than older adults who tend to socialize in other ways.