Depression may be on the rise among younger millennials even as typical risk factors such as substance use and anti-social behavior fall, a new study suggests.
Researchers looked at two groups of millennials in the United Kingdom, one born between 1991 and 1992 and a second born between 2000 and 2002.
The researchers said they found that overall symptoms of both depression and self-harm had increased by age 14 in the younger cohort compared to the older one.
Symptoms of depression increased from 9 percent to almost 15 percent between 2005 and 2015 — the years of each group’s respective check-in — while reported self-harm increased from almost 12 percent to more than 14 percent.
What’s more, the younger millennials reported lower overall risk factors such as smoking (3 percent compared to 9 percent) and drinking alcohol (43 percent versus 52 percent), as well as fewer anti-social behaviors (28 percent versus 40 percent).
While this newest research came from the United Kingdom, similar findings have been made in the United States.
For instance, a 2018 report from Blue Cross Blue Shield found that diagnoses of major depression had risen 47 percent for millennials in 2013.
Defining the age range of the millennial generation is fuzzy.
The U.S. Census Bureau has used the year 2000 as a cut-off birth year while the Pew Research Center sets it back to 1996.
But whether the younger group in the U.K. study represents the limit of the millennial generation or the beginning of Generation Z, the results are clear: The kids are depressed and it’s not clear why.
The study did find younger millennials slept fewer than eight hours per night (11 percent versus 6 percent) and had higher body mass index (BMI) scores than their older counterparts (7 percent scored as obese compared to 4 percent in the older cohort).
But the researchers cautioned against drawing any single conclusion from this data.
Instead, these results, “suggest relationships between these factors might be more complex and dynamic in nature than currently understood,” the study authors wrote.
Is social media to blame?
Many experts interviewed singled out social media as a potential vector for this increase in depressive symptoms.
“Millennials were the first generation to grow up with the constant flow of information from the internet and social media [and] they are being bombarded with details about the personal and professionals lives of others.
Millennials can’t help but compare their situations and achievements to everyone else’s, which can leave them feeling insecure and unaccomplished,”said Jessica Singh, a mental health therapist and founder of Transcendence Counseling Center, LLC in Vero Beach, Florida.
As a result, “Millennials are feeling the pressure to always look and act like they have it all together. This can easily result in lowered self-esteem, anxiety, or depression,” she said.
This tracks with previous studies that have indicated social media use may increase depression and loneliness.
“Then there’s the reality that social media interactions are simply less real, substantive, and protective than ones in real life,” said Kathryn Moore, PhD, a psychologist at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California.
She added that “I see many young adults who say they are social, but their social interactions consist of talking with people online while playing a video game for hours.These types of social interactions aren’t allowing for true sharing, connectedness, or feeling known.”