The Mental Health Crisis Faced by Today’s Youth

Since the mid-2000s, there has been a significant increase in the number of U.S. adolescents and young adults suffering from severe psychological distress, depression, and suicidal thoughts and actions. Even more concerning is that the magnitude of this increase is markedly greater than the corresponding increase among adults 26 years old and over, suggesting a generational shift in mood disorders in today’s youth.

The Upswing 

Utilizing data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, recent studies assessing U.S. trends in depression have produced several significant and concerning findings. One such study published by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology reviewed over 200,000 responses from adolescents aged 12 to 17 and nearly 400,000 from young adults over the age of 18 during the 2005 to 2017 time frame. Researchers found that:

The number of adolescents who reported depressive episodes in the month before taking the survey increased by 52% between 2005 and 2017 (from 18,523 to 28,105). Responses from the young adult age group showed a 63% increase between 2009 and 2017 (from 32,316 to 52,664).

The number of young adults who reported feelings of serious psychological distress in the previous month — such as nervousness, hopelessness, restlessness, as if nothing could cheer them up, that everything took an unnecessary amount of effort, as well as feeling down, no good, or worthless — increased by 71% (from 30,720 to 52,265) between 2008 and 2017.

Between 2008 and 2017, death from suicide increased by 56% among 18- and 19-year-olds — an increase from 9 to 15 victims for every 100,000 individuals in that age group.

Females were most vulnerable to all of the above. Between 2005 and 2017, there was a 59% increase in the prevalence of depression in females compared to a 43% increase in males. 

Another study focused on trends in the past-year prevalence of depression during the 2005 to 2015 time frame. The sample included 607,520 adolescents and adults aged 12 years and older. Findings included that: 

In aggregate, there was a significant increase in the past-year prevalence of depression across all age groups, affecting 6.6% (nearly 41,000) of the population in 2005 up to 7.25% (just over 44,000) in 2015.

Overall, increasing levels of stress, particularly financial stress, were thought to play a role in this prevalence increase. Of note, the analysis included the 2008 recession, a time after which many other studies also witnessed increases in mental health issues.

When analyzed by age, the most profound increases in depression prevalence were found in the 12- to 25-year-old population, with the adolescent population — those between 12 and 17 years old — being particularly impacted. 

Finally, a third study that also focused on trends in past-year depression examined the 2005 to 2014 time frame, specifically looking at adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 and young adults between 18 and 25 years old. The sample sizes for the cohorts were just over 172,000 and just under 179,000, respectively. The study showed that:

The change in depression prevalence in adolescent population was marked, rising from 8.7% (15,007) in 2005 to 11.3% (19,492) in 2014. The increase in depression prevalence in young adults was less pronounced, but still significant — 8.8% (15,730) in 2005 to 9.6% (17,160) in 2014.

Girls drove much of the increase in adolescent depression. The rising rates of depression in girls were alarming, from 13.1% in 2004 to 17.3% in 2014. Among boys, the prevalence of depression increased from 4.5% in 2004 to 5.7% in 2014.

In adolescents overall, typical factors associated with depression, including single parent homes or income, did not account for the increasing trend.

To see such a significant increase in negative states of mental health among young people is alarming, saddening, and begs the question, “why is this happening, and why now?”

Join us over the next few weeks as we explore the causes behind the youth mental health crisis, and hear from one young man whose experiences with OCD and depression led him to psychedelic therapy (and don’t forget to sign up for the weekly ATAI #InsightNetwork to stay up to see with all the latest on biotech, psychedelic science, and much more).