Mar 23, 2019 | Updated: 12:48 PM EDT

Research Shows the Rise in Mental Disorders in Teens are Caused by Social Media

Mar 14, 2019 02:31 PM EDT

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There has been a rise in mental health issues over the last decade and the rise of social media may be one of the reasons why, according to a survey that was released on Thursday.

The research, published by the American Psychological Association, found sharp increases in the number of young adults and adolescents who reported experiencing negative psychological symptoms - specifically in those born in 1995 or later, known as iGen. Coincidentally, the greatest spike in symptoms occurred in 2011, around the same time social media bursts onto the scene.

For the older generation, there is no corresponding increase observed.

"We found a substantial increase in major depression or suicidal thoughts, psychological distress, and more attempted suicides after 2010, versus the mid-2000s, and that increase was by far the largest in adolescents and young adults," said lead author Jean Twenge, author of the book "iGen" and professor of psychology at San Diego State University. "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."

Twenge and her team analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a nationally representative survey that has looked at drug and alcohol use, mental health, and other health-related issues in U.S. individuals age 12 and over since 1971. They looked at survey responses from more than 200,000 adolescents age 12 to 17 from 2005 to 2017, and almost 400,000 adults age 18 and over from 2008 to 2017.

The questionnaire did not ask participants if they were diagnosed with depression or another mental condition, but instead asked individuals if they had experienced depressive symptoms in the past year. And the rate of young adults with suicidal thoughts or other suicide-related outcomes increased a staggering 47 percent from 2008 to 2017.

One reason for the increase may be that digital media use has had a bigger impact on teens and young adults than older adults who tend to have more stable social lives.

"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 Twenge.

The new survey also found that young people are not sleeping as much as previous generations, which may also play a role in the rise of mental health issues. Sleep deprivation affects mood and is associated with anxiety and depression, research shows.

"Teenagers definitely use social media in a way that affects their sleep," said Fobian. "They are exposed to light right before bed and that light exposure alone delays their sleep by 30 minutes. It also affects their social interactions with others."

Twenge and Fobian urge parents to limit overall social media use and encourage their children to engage in social activities.

"It's important to think more mindfully about how we use our amusement time. That means getting more sleep and spending less time with digital media," said Twenge.

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