People Reporting More Depressive Symptoms than 30 Years Ago

Rob Wipond

Americans today, especially teens, are reporting having far more psychological problems that resemble “depressive symptoms” than they did in the 1980s, according to an analysis of major surveys published in Social Indicators Research by San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge.

Twenge analyzed four different surveys that were repeated from the 1980s until 2010 involving 6.9 million teens, college students and adults, and found that Americans reported substantially higher levels of what Twenge called “depressive symptoms.”

“Compared to their 1980s counterparts, teens in the 2010s are 38 percent more likely to have trouble remembering, 74 percent more likely to have trouble sleeping and twice as likely to have seen a professional for mental health issues,” stated a San Diego State University press release. “College students surveyed were 50 percent more likely to say they feel overwhelmed, and adults were more likely to say their sleep was restless, they had poor appetite and everything was an effort.”

Some of the specific statistics cited in the study included the following: “36% of students in 2010–2012 reported having trouble remembering at least once in the previous month, up from 26% in 1982–1984, a 38% increase. In 2010–2012, 23% of students reported shortness of breath, compared to 14% in 1982–1984, a 64% increase. 23% reported having trouble sleeping six or more days a month in 2010–2012, up from 13% in 1982–1984, a 73% increase. More than twice as many 2010–2012 teens (8%) reported having trouble sleeping on 20 or more days a month compared to 1982–1984 (3%). Similarly, more than twice as many 2010–2012 teens (5%) as those in 1982–1984 (2%) reported having trouble thinking clearly on 20 or more days a month.”

Twenge’s research was published in June, but the press release came out in late September to coincide with the release of an updated version of Twenge’s book Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable than Ever Before.

Depression increasing across the United States (San Diego State University Press Release on ScienceDaily, September 30, 2014)

(Abstract) Time Period and Birth Cohort Differences in Depressive Symptoms in the U.S., 1982–2013 (Twenge, Jean M. Social Indicators Research. June 2014. DOI: 10.1007/s11205-014-0647-1)

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Rob Wipond
Rob Wipond is a freelance journalist who writes frequently on the interfaces between psychiatry, civil rights, the justice system, and social change. His articles have been nominated for three Canadian National Magazine Awards, nine Western Magazine Awards, and five Webster Awards for journalism. He is currently working on a book about people's experiences of forced psychiatric treatment, and can be contacted through his website.