Increasing Prevalence of Mood Disorders Among Teens and Young Adults

Depression, serious psychological distress, and suicide attempts have risen substantially since the early 2000s among young adults – what’s changed?


Last week, a team of researchers led by Jean M. Twenge published a study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology about recent trends in the occurrence of mood disorders, psychological distress, and suicidal behavior throughout the lifespan. The patterns they identified among young adults were the most compelling.

Alarmingly, between 2005 and 2017, the occurrence of a major depressive episode in the last year leapt 52% among adolescents, and 63% among young adults. Similarly, severe psychological distress and suicidal behaviors within the past month increased in both groups, a trend unique to young adults compared to adults (26-49 years-of-age) and older adults (50+ years-of-age).

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Ample research has indicated that anxiety, depression, ADHD, and several other diagnostic designations have become increasingly common in the US. There is some irony in the increasing normality of “abnormal” psychological experiences. For example, according to Twenge and colleagues, 13.2% of adolescents and young adults reported having experienced a major depressive episode in the last year during 2017. That’s about two teens per average-sized classroom. Increased incidence has been attributed to overdiagnosis, but some studies have pointed to environmental factors contributing to rising trends.

Factors implicated in increased rates of psychological distress include compromised sleep quality, increased academic pressures, social isolation, among other environmental characteristics that often to relate, in some capacity, to heavy tech use and screen time. Although increasing trends have been well-documented, Twenge and team’s work was conducted to establish the extent to which specific birth cohort can be linked to overall trends.

According to the authors, individuals with early-onset depression are twice as likely to have major depressive episodes in adulthood and are five times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population. Clarifying cohort trends may highlight potential vulnerabilities of certain groups, and can shed light on some of the environmental characteristics that make particular cohorts more susceptible to mood disorders than others.

“In this article, we seek to explore trends […] from 2005 to 2017 in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a large (N=611,880), nationally representative sample of Americans ages 12 and older. We take a two-pronged approach to examining these trends. First, we compare mood disorder indicators and suicide-related outcomes within age groups over the years with comparable data (since 2008 for serious psychological distress and suicide-related outcomes, since 2005 for major depressive episodes among adolescents, and since 2009 for major depressive episodes among adults). Second, we perform age-period-cohort (APC) analysis on both adolescents (12 to 17) and adults (ages 18 and over).”

The NSDUH collects data surrounding health and quality of life for individuals of diverse racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds throughout the US. Twenge and team used these data to look at characteristics including severe psychological distress, major depressive episodes occurring within the past year, suicide-related outcomes (i.e., thoughts, plans, and attempts), and deaths by suicide through supplemental data from the CDC Fatal Injury Reports as a function of the birth cohort.

“This investigation of a large, nationally representative dataset found that rates of recent serious psychological distress, past-year MDE, and past-year suicide-related outcomes (suicidal ideation, plans, attempts, and deaths by suicide) increased among adolescents aged 12 to 17 and young adults ages 18 to 25 between the mid-2000s and 2017, with smaller and less consistent increases among adults ages 26 and over. APC analyses suggest these trends were largely attributable to birth cohort, with a steady rise in all outcomes among those born from 1982 to 1999.”

Twenge and colleagues suggest that, although economic trends, increased openness to disclosing psychological distress, and rising trends in opioid use have been entertained as factors contributing to the rise in mood disorders experienced by adolescent and adults, electronic communication and digital media use may be more likely culprits.

Relatedly, research has indicated that young people are sleeping fewer hours nightly than in the past, with potentially detrimental effects on quality of life. The authors call for future research to examine moderators associated with increases in the occurrence of mood disorders, and exploration of some of the ways in which technology can be harnessed as a source of support as opposed to a barrier.



Twenge, J. M., Cooper, A. B., Joiner, T. E., Duffy, M. E., & Binau, S. G. (2019). Age, period, and cohort trends in mood disorder indicators and suicide-related outcomes in a nationally representative dataset, 2005–2017. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. (Link)

Previous articleEven Docs Get Killed by Akathisia
Next articleConnection Is a Core Human Need, But We Are Terrible at It
Sadie Cathcart
MIA Research News Team: Sadie Cathcart is a doctoral student and researcher within the Counseling and School Psychology program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Sadie belongs to the school psychology track, and her research interests include the psychosocial implications of chronic illness in childhood, relationships between health and educational opportunities, and creative approaches to boosting student and family engagement in learning.


  1. Wow! Great job of not discussing the elephant in the room. None of these problems could possibly relate to the mass drugging of our children with the psych drugs, could it? You know, like that black box warning on the antidepressants that warns the antidepressants can cause suicides? Or that problem that the antidepressant and ADHD drugs can create the “bipolar” symptoms, which has resulted in a completely iatrogenic “childhood bipolar epidemic.” No, the “Increasing Prevalence of Mood Disorders Among Teens and Young Adults” couldn’t have anything to do with the mass drugging of American children with the neurotoxic psych drugs (sarcasm).

    Report comment

  2. Sure, get off on the wrong foot, so to speak, and you could be screwed for life. No question about it, and you wouldn’t be the first. Groomed for success, or mussed for failure, we’re all game players here, aren’t we?

    “Good losers”, “poor winners:” etc. Be a sport. Hollywood, Inc. needs your dreams and your cash.

    Expectations are…Someone is selling therapy, and given the ruts some people find themselves in, there are going to be buyers. After all, those ruts help us sell more therapy, and this therapy supports “the human condition”, that is, many, many therapy “consumers”, and much manufactured demand.

    We were talking about “the human condition”, that is, how somebody has to put bread on my table. Somebody who can’t do so without taking something in return. Winners, losers? Depends on which side of the couch you happen to fall, doesn’t it?

    Report comment

  3. “Alarmingly, between 2005 and 2017, the occurrence of a major depressive episode in the last year leapt 52% among adolescents, and 63% among young adults.” This epidemic of “mental illness” represents either an alarming increase in depressing experiences among our adolescents and young adults or an alarming public health crisis. We must immediately consider whether an enemy has released some kind of mysterious pathogen targeting our youth or whether their “major depression” is caused by their “majorly depressing experiences.”

    Report comment

  4. Feelings of hopelessness and despair are overwhelming many in the U.S. So much so, that people are turning to alcohol, drugs, and suicide to numb the pain of their lives. Government enslavement and the stranglehold on the economy are making life even more difficult on those already struggling to get by. And this is seen in new death numbers released.

    The national rate for deaths from alcohol, drugs, and suicide rose from 43.9 to 46.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017, a 6 percent increase, the Trust for America’s Health and the Well Being Trust reported Tuesday. That was a slower increase than in the previous two years, but it was greater than the 4 percent average annual increase since 1999, reported USA Today.

    Perhaps most disturbing, is that the deaths from suicides rose from 13.9 to 14.5 per 100,000, which amounted to a 4 percent increase. That was double the average annual pace over the previous decade. Psychologist Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer of the Well Being Trust, says broader efforts are needed to address the underlying causes of alcohol and drug use and suicide. “It’s almost a joke how simple we’re trying to make these issues,” he says. “We’re not changing direction and it’s getting worse.”

    That’s because people have no control over their lives anymore. The government controls every aspect of everyone’s lives and social media helps to compound the issue by often making people feel like they don’t have enough or can’t “keep up with the Joneses.” Human beings need to and deserve to be free; it’s a basic human right. Once that right and free will are taken away, there’s not much left for anyone to live for. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be a popular vein of thought, but it needs to be said. And problems caused by government control cannot be fixed by more government control.

    Psychology Today wrote that in 1755, in Of Suicide, David Hume argues that, though only “one step” could put an end to his misery, and that’s to truly be free. If one cannot be free in life, they will be free in death. Hume proposes to “restore men to their native liberty” by examining all the common arguments against suicide and demonstrating that suicide is “free from every imputation of guilt or blame.”

    Loss of control over one’s life (such as forced sexual abuse) appears to be a common cause even in the article written by USA Today. However, Miller admits that while overdose antidotes and treatment for opioid use disorder are definitely needed in today’s world, he says, “it’s not going to fix” the underlying problems that lead people to end their lives, whether or not it’s intentional.”

    370 comments on this story here

    Report comment

  5. The right “mothering” and/or “fathering” is really the only answer to all these disheartening statistics, which represent lots of suffering. The instincts to provide for the rising generations have been lost, or at least a lot of them. They will be passed on to the next generations, if they exist, otherwise nothing or something inferior. Parental managers who don’t know their kids in depth don’t believe anything is wrong, and the kids don’t know it either, until much later in life when they “come down” with some “mental disorder.” And then they don’t want to admit how bad their childhood was, and the parents need to be spared from any more grief, so the truth never comes out, and we’re in dark, and believe we can’t stand the light. Somebody should write something to the effect, turn on the light, let’s see where we are, really.

    Report comment

    • I agree, “The right ‘mothering’ and/or ‘fathering’ is really the only answer to all these disheartening statistics, which represent lots of suffering.” In other words, “mental health care” will never actually “help” our children.

      I don’t agree, “The instincts to provide for the rising generations have been lost,” in all parents. But I will say our “mental health” workers and mainstream doctors are attacking the stay at home mothers who do want to properly raise our children, big time.

      But us stay at home moms, and active volunteers, know our children are doing head and shoulders above the other children. So I absolutely agree, proper parenting, and respect for those who do such, should be respected. Rather than those who want to properly raise our children being attacked by our greed only inspired “mental health” and medical communities.

      I agree, “Somebody should write something to the effect, turn on the light, let’s see where we are, really.” I think this is largely being called the “great awakening” or becoming “woke” or “aware” or “red pilled” online. Lots of people online see the societal problems, if you know where to look.

      But it isn’t in looking for solutions from the well funded, mainstream media globalist propagandists. It’s looking for the wisdom within, the now frustrated and censored American patriots.

      Report comment

  6. And how many of these young people are on any kind of psychiatric drug?????? The drugs used for the various things that kids supposedly have like ADHD and depression can cause the very things that they’re supposed to be taking care of.

    And on top of that I don’t think that we’re raising our children with realistic expectations about life, we’re not giving them the tools that they need to move through life in ways useful to themselves. For instance, kids in any kind of competition whether it’s sports or anything else all get trophies these days because “everyone is a winner.” This doesn’t teach a realistic outlook on life and doesn’t teach kids how to deal with adversity and not always being the winner. Look at how Millennials are turning out these days; they can’t seem to deal with anything that they don’t like or which doesn’t benefit them in some way.

    And life has become a lot more difficult these days with a lot of things to be sad about.

    Report comment

    • That was my first thought – we have more and more kids “in the system,” and particularly taking one or more psychiatric drugs, and we have more kids with worse “psychopathology.” If this shit remotely worked, wouldn’t our “new technology” be REDUCING the burden of “mental illness?” Yet this theme is essentially never, ever heard in the media or the psychiatric research world. At best, we can easily conclude that all the extra drugs are not helping. But based on the long-term research, there’s a good possibility that they are actually making things worse with their “diagnoses” and “treatments.” WAKE UP PEOPLE!

      Report comment

      • I realize that correlation does not prove causality, but it is astounding to me that every single one of my hospitalized or suicidal younger clients is taking SSRIs (prescribed by someone previously, not during therapy with me.) There is not a single exception.

        I also think SSRI-induced suicidality has its own signature that is not that hard to recognize, and young people taking SSRIs are much harder to treat. We are definitely making things worse.

        SG, my experience is that a lot of the ‘trends’ we hear about ‘millenials’ from the media are entirely fictional. The young people I work with are generally tough as nails and have to face a future that is far more challenging and uncertain than anything my own generation (I was born in the late ’50s) had to deal with.

        I cannot wait until they are turned loose on the real world and start cleaning house in business and politics. Many of these kids are incredibly well versed in ethics as well as hard sciences and arts, they understand logical fallacies, and have proven themselves to be incredibly resilient in the face of oppression, violence, and institutionalized crime.

        Do not be surprised if they make the ‘greatest generation’ look like a bunch of punters. If you are a hide-bound 60-or-70-something vulture capitalist, a word of advice: Run.

        Report comment

        • Yeah, you’d think that if SSRIs prevented suicide, there’s be a lot more NOT taking SSRIs who would end up in the hospital, eh? I guess the manufacturers and their psychiatric handmaidens have a different concept of what “works” means. Perhaps “works” means “creates profits?”

          Report comment

    • ADHD is not a “supposed” disorder. I have had it since I was a child, but didn’t know until I was an adult, and things could have been very different for me if I had. Different as in better. Stimulant medication made a HUGE difference for me, and just because it’s a “brain” drug, doesn’t make it bad. Do you call Epilepsy a “supposed” disorder and consider medication for seizures a problem with big pharma in bed with psychiatry? How about MS? SSRI’s given to children, adolescents, and adults are absolutely a problematic choice, but I know many adults who took ADHD meds as a kid but don’t anymore, and they are A-OK. Please try a smaller brush to paint with.

      Report comment

      • ADHD is a belief system, and it certainly doesn’t compare with epileptic seizures that are indeed real, however, one might say that it does compare with the view that electricity induced seizures are some kind of “safe and effective treatment” for ‘feeling bad’ let us say.

        Report comment

      • The fact that stimulants can be perceived as helpful for some people doesn’t make “ADHD” a “disorder.” It appears to me that people who “have ADHD” are simply different in that they are less tolerant of arbitrary rules and boredom, and have a more difficult time getting organized and planning things. This is no more a “disorder” that being a person who doesn’t like big groups of people or who lacks athletic skills or who finds doing artwork challenging. I’m not for a moment suggesting that these challenges are not real or difficult, or that stimulants can’t be helpful in dealing with them. I have two (of my three) boys who all fit the “ADHD” criteria, and believe me, I know what the challenges can be! But to call something a “disorder” just because people have particular personality characteristics that are difficult for them or for people dealing with them is just not scientific. People can “have ADHD” for dozens of different reasons (at least 50, by one author’s count), including sleep apnea, low iron, rigid classrooms, high intelligence relative to peers, poor parenting skills, abuse/neglect/trauma at home, nutritional deficiencies, allergies, and on and on and on. Or maybe that’s just the way they are.

        If folks want to take stimulants to help them focus or pay attention to dull things they need to do, I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with a doctor telling you that you are deficient simply because your personality doesn’t fit with the expectations of modern society. “ADHD” behavior has survival value for our species, and it should not be disrespected or diminished in value.

        One quick example: a recent study put groups of three kids together, elementary age. One half the groups had an “ADHD” diagnosed child in it, the other half did not. They were each given a set of problem-solving tasks to do. The groups with the “ADHD” child in them spent significantly less time working on the problems and significantly more goofing around, while the other groups stayed with the problem most of the time. But in the end, the “ADHD” groups solved all the problems, while those without the “ADHD” child didn’t solve any.

        Staying “on task” is overrated, especially when the task is mindless and pointless and repetitive. Being able to look at things from different angles and try out new ideas is critical to solving problems. Of course, if we had a group with THREE “ADHD” kids, who knows if they’d ever get anything done? But the “ADHD” types were essential to the more straight-ahead reasoners, and when they worked together and valued each other, they had more fun AND they came up with better results!

        Report comment

  7. This is certainly evidence of how well their propaganda campaign has worked. The kiddies have absorbed the message that if they have any deep-felt, intense, unpleasant feelings there is something wrong with them and they need to seek help.

    Add to that the whole standardized testing thing. Even before No Child Left a Dime ramped up the pressure on kids (and teachers) and created “teaching to the test,” the very format of multiple-choice tests kills the thinking process, re-shapes it into guessing well. The only options are the ones presented, with no opportunity to self-generate an answer. There is no opportunity to look at the problem from any other angle than the one intended by the people who wrote the test. The “right answer” (and there’s only ever just one) does not flow from a process of evaluating the information available to come up with a solution and building on one’s mistakes, the way natural learning occurs. No, it is provided for you among other “wrong” answers that kids are taught to dismiss by process of elimination.
    Then there’a all the social interactions at school, and all the possible ways for those to go badly, with teachers, admin, other kids.
    And kids are no longer allowed to just wander into nature and spend time alone exploring, inventing, just watching the breeze, because now that is considered neglectful and unsafe parenting.

    There’s no place for a sensitive, insightful kid with a mind of their own; they will be intervened upon. They’ve been programmed to think they need it.

    Report comment

    • People have moods, it’s a human quality. Considering the range of emotions we’re equipped to feel, we’re hardly one-dimensional, or even two-dimensional. We are mulit-dimensional. We experience heartbreak and celebration, life challenges and rewards, defeats and victories. And everything in between, the mundane and the routine. That’s life! And we each respond differently to it, which is our natural diversity. We just need to remember our center, then we can handle it all with grace.

      People need to get over their fears and prejudice of differences. We’re all different to somebody.

      Report comment

  8. I came off drugs suitable for “Schizophrenia” when I was 24 years old, after a number of unsuccessful attempts and “relapse” hospitalizations.

    I found Self Help book : “Your Erroneous Zones” by Psychologist Dr Wayne Dwyer very useful at the time, as it helped me identify and relieve “Anxiety”.

    I’m 58 years old now and have never “relapsed”.

    Report comment

  9. teens and young adults…..
    brains not totally formed…
    how many prescription medicines being used…
    how much alcohol/nicotine/caffeine being used…
    how many street drugs being used….
    how much sugar is being used…
    all of the above are effecting a young brain…

    Report comment

  10. Too much academic pressure, unreasonable expectations for young people in general, social isolation, poor social skills due to overuse of technology, income inequality, underfunded schools and mental health resources, etc… are all contributing factors. Poverty, urban environments with little access to green space…

    Report comment

  11. The world is complicated and in-your-face violent and significant changes in communication have taken place in the last 25-30 years. Bullying is the norm and the example from authority figures. Parents have been blind sided and schools are unsafe. Kids are only human, too.

    Report comment

  12. 21st century America’s overlaps with Rome in its downward spiral are…frightening, albeit cliche. for all the right wing talk about excess $pending on the ‘welfare state,’ its really the war machine that’s consuming the tax dollars. for all this talk of a sterilized, ‘politically correct’ culture (which, btw, i thought had been discussed thoroughly and then found boring around ’98 or so), ultra-right wing terrorism is on the upswing, while the gov’t gets in on the act with militarized police and mass incarceration. and…

    the old ‘haves vs have nots’ has given way to something more like ‘have nearly everything vs has a degree of affluence vs ha! you’re broke as a joke, loser.’ couple that with the decimation of the once vibrant (although mostly white, admittedly) middle-middle class and the decline of upward mobility, and…

    holy anomie batman, what the hell do the kids have to look foward to?

    Report comment

  13. Social media and smartphones are part of the problem, watch kids, they are so addicted to the devices that they don’t know how to have interpersonal interactions live. It raises their anxiety as they wait and watch how many views or likes their posts receive. and any negative postings take on a life of their own and have a new permanence. They are now isolated when they are in the same room with people because they don’t interact. Its sad. There has always been bullying, but social media puts it on steroids.
    And we need to take the media to task also. The content of TV and movies. We grew up with Little House on the Prarie, The Brady Bunch, Eight is Enough, The Waltons….and they grew up with The Purge, Zombie apocalypse, 13 Reasons Why, Mean Girls and a host of other horrific content. Most of which glorifies violence and callousness. It is near impossible to screen out.

    Report comment

  14. I’m going to ramble a little. During some research on narcolepsy, I came across some interesting information concerning the use of OTC NSAIDS resulting in improvements in mood disorders. An oddity, but interesting so I went further down the rabbit hole. There are University papers that seem to suggest this to be true. Further along, I find protein HMGB1 playing a critical role in inflammation. (obviously, mood disorder might be exacerbated by physical pain, but that couldn’t be it entirely). Found the various workings of this protein to include the reduction in the production of SRT1 which then reduces the production of hypocretin. There are other factors that involve potential metabolic functions of ADP-ATP cycles. It seems the exact reason is elusive, but many people are producing too much HMGB1, which could result in mood disorder but also contributes to other health issues including cancer. Finally, the question is, is this dysfunction a result of an autoimmune issue and if so, is there a better method of detection to predetermine and treat the underlying root cause before cellular functions are compromised or apoptosis results in permanent damage.?

    Report comment