There’s a squall of factors that contribute to college depression. For the first time, young adults are given the freedom to eat whenever they like, sleep whenever they want and indulge in all of the activities their folks were overbearing about. Poor diet and lack of sleep have been independently linked to anxiety and depression all on their own saying nothing of the new environments and social pressures that accompany campus life that are just as frequently linked to the same. College freshmen have been associated with depression for some time, and the rates appear to be rising considerably.
According to a new study titled,“Trends in Mood and Anxiety Symptoms and Suicide-Related Outcomes Among U.S. Undergraduates, 2007–2018: Evidence From Two National Surveys,” published in the Journal of Adolescent Psychology, reports of suicidal ideation, severe depression, and self-destructive behavior has more than doubled between the years 2007 and 2018. From the report:
“Rates of depression, anxiety, nonsuicidal self-injury, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts markedly increased over the assessed years, with rates doubling over the period in many cases. Anger, low flourishing, and suicide plans, each assessed in only one dataset, also exhibited an upward trend.”
While the report itself fails to explicitly intimate any causation, the study’s authors have been very vocal about their suspicions.
Depression is on the rise
A review of roughly 400, 000 adults between the ages of 18 and 25 and 200,00 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 revealed a 63% increase in major depression in the former and a 52% increase in the latter between the years 2005 and 2017. Adults wrestling with suicidal thoughts have also risen by 47% in that same window.
“Past work has evidenced increased utilization of mental health services on college campuses, as well as rising rates of mood and suicide-related pathology in adolescents and young adults in recent years. We examined whether such findings are reflective of large-scale, nationwide trends in college student mental health in the past decade,” study author Mary E. Duffy reports.
One of the study’s other authors is a psychology professor at San Diego State University, named Jean Twenge. Among other things, Twenge is known for coining the term ‘iGeners’, an appellation meant to both wound and identify the generation born between 1995 and 2012, and the social decline engendered by our love of smartphones and social media and the like. Twenge’s estimation, that the two have collectively aided the surge in mental unwellness, is substantiated by the trends’ rise leaping parallel with the pervasion of cell phones in the US. The year 2012 was the first time more than 50% of the American population owned a smartphone. Twenge wrote in The Atlantic two years ago, “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”
Twenge isn’t the only health professional to make this claim, even if it has welcomed some degree of academic disaccord. As recently as last month Ladders covered a new study that appeared in the journal Clinical Psychological Science that found little evidence of longitudinal or daily linkages to adverse mental effects in adolescences. I think a reasoned middle ground can safely assume that the popularity of the devices themselves are not toxic to a developing psyche but few could argue any social benefits of willfully disengaging with the present in favor of a digital hellscape notoriously governed by ghastly extremists. The newest report certainly agrees without outright outing any predictors.
I think pathology is likely energized by many different factors, though all of them are just as likely made worse by our culture’s emphasis on digital nonsense. At the end of the day, an early exit makes sense, so attenuating the urge requires steady precision. Twenge concludes, “These results suggest a need for more research to understand how digital communication versus face-to-face social interaction influences mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes and to develop specialized interventions for younger age groups. Findings demonstrate a broad worsening of mental health among U.S. college students over the past decade, a concerning result meriting further attention and intervention.”