News & Commentary

More Americans Show Signs of Depression


The pace, distractions, and noise of modern life might be taking a toll on our collective mental well-being, according to a study in the journal Social Indicators Research.

There’s been a steep increase in the number of people who suffer from problems associated with depression, such as difficulty remembering or trouble sleeping.

‘Apparently, the pressures, lifestyles, and social forces of modern life have led people to experience more psychosomatic issues,’ researchers say.

That is in comparison with people in the 1980s, whom researchers used as their benchmark in analyzing data from nearly 7 million adults and adolescents nationwide.

The reported spike in symptoms has not led to ‘greater overt reports of depression, nor to greater suicidal ideation.’

Researchers add, ‘Although no more of these patients may describe themselves as depressed than during previous years, more may manifest somatic symptoms of depression or describe feeling overwhelmed. Despite the increased awareness of mental health issues, depressive symptoms may still present themselves as psychosomatic symptoms.’

Compared with the Pretty in Pink generation, teenagers were 38% more likely to have memory problems and 74% more likely to have trouble sleeping.

The authors point to the possible effects that introduction of serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) in the late 1980s and early 1990s might have had.

‘The increase in the number of high school students seeking psychological therapy during this time may also have suppressed any increase in depressive symptoms or suicidal ideation that might otherwise be caused by cultural factors,’ the study states. ‘Thus it is possible that the higher recent prevalence of depressive symptoms might have been even higher if SSRIs and other professional help for mental health issues were not in greater use.’

Jean M. Twenge, the lead author, says, ‘When teens say they are having trouble sleeping and concentrating, those might be signs of depression. With more teens reporting these problems, pediatricians might want to make depression screening a priority for this age group.’

As with any study, there are limitations. ‘We cannot tell if Americans of all ages experienced more depressive symptoms over time, or if each successive birth cohort experienced more symptoms,’ the study states. ‘Both explanations indicate that cultural change has occurred, but a birth cohort difference would suggest a more stable and perhaps more permanent trend.’

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