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Social media linked to rise in mental health disorders in teens, survey finds

Mental health issues have risen significantly over the last decade and the rise of digital media may be one reason why, according to a national survey released Thursday.

The research, published by the American Psychological Association, found sharp increases in the number of young adults and adolescents who reported experiencing negative psychological symptoms — specifically in those born in 1995 or later, known as iGen. Coincidentally, the greatest spike in symptoms occurred in 2011, around the same time social media bursts onto the scene.

No corresponding increase was observed in older adults.

“We found a substantial increase in major depression or suicidal thoughts, psychological distress, and more attempted suicides after 2010, versus the mid-2000s, and that increase was by far the largest in adolescents and young adults,” said lead author Jean Twenge, author of the book “iGen” and professor of psychology at San Diego State University. “These trends are weak or non-existent among adults 26 years and over, suggesting a generational shift in mood disorders instead of an overall increase across all ages.”

Twenge and her team analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a nationally representative survey that has looked at drug and alcohol use, mental health, and other health-related issues in U.S. individuals age 12 and over since 1971. They looked at survey responses from more than 200,000 adolescents age 12 to 17 from 2005 to 2017, and almost 400,000 adults age 18 and over from 2008 to 2017.

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