Is Social Media and Lack of Sleep Tied to the Sharp Rise in Depression Among Teens?

Is Social Media and Lack of Sleep Tied to the Sharp Rise in Depression Among Teens?

Has your teen or tween reported feeling insecure, isolated or depressed? If so, she’s got a lot of company.

Young Americans under 26 have experienced a large spike in symptoms of depression, mental distress and suicidal thoughts over the past decade or so, according to a recent preview of a study accepted for publication in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

This finding may be particularly troubling for parents of kids who’ve suffered trauma from Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which are linked to a significantly increased risk of depression and other mental ills.

The probable cause, according to the first study’s researchers: the enormous rise in social media use over the past decade.

Teens and tweens today “spend less time with their friends in person, and less time sleeping, and more time on digital media,” study author Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, told HealthDay.  “The decline in sleep time may be especially important, as not getting enough sleep is a major risk factor for depression and suicidal thoughts.”

The study abstract, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology this March, found that teens and youth under 26 are experiencing mental health problems at a much higher rate than millennials. In a review of 10 years’ worth of data on about 200,000 teens and 400,000 adults over 18, the scientists found a worrisome generational shift, with symptoms of major depression rising 60 percent from 2011.

Other researchers not connected to the study told HealthDay that cyberbullying, less face-to-face contact with friends, and kids comparing themselves to other people on social media may also contribute to mental distress.

In addition, a study in JAMA Network Open published in May 2019 found a striking rise in suicide among tween and teen girls since 2007. Although boys are still more likely to kill themselves, suicide among girls 10 to 14 rose nearly 13% since 2007, while increasing by 7% among boys the same age.

What parents can do

Here are some expert tips from the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) and Stress Health:

  1. Help your child get enough sleep. Start by setting a “screens off” time at night. Your teens may actually appreciate having an excuse to get off their cell phones at night and get some sleep, because otherwise the pressure to keep texting or stay on social media may keep them up until the wee hours.
  2. Provide continued support, warmth and caring. No matter how distant, snarky or rebellious a teen may be, he or she is still a child who needs your love and support. According to the GGSC, a 2016 study of a diverse group of teens found that teens with strong support from their parents “had lower depression symptoms and lower cortisol and C-reactive protein levels—two physiological markers associated with depression—than teens with less supportive relationships. Interestingly, peer support levels did not change these markers, suggesting that parental support may be key.”
  3. Model emotional skills to help teen navigate the tricky terrain of adolescence. When talking with your teen, be as calm and non-judgmental as possible. If there are mindfulness classes available at school, suggest your teen check them out.
  4. Have regular family dinners. As Dr. Anne Fishel of The Family Dinner Project has told Stress Health, “Children who eat family dinners are healthier, have more self-esteem, and are less likely to be anxious or depressed…Even one dinner a week can be hugely positive if the atmosphere is warm and engaging.”
  5. Encourage faceto-face relationships. Invite over the relatives and grandparents; take weekend trips; and explore work and after-school activities where your teen is more likely to meet friends.
  6. Get out in nature. Whether it’s gardening, hiking or playing in the park, encourage your teen to spend some time with you outdoors. Research suggests that nature therapy is rejuvenating and helps ease anxiety.

References

Mozes, A. (2019, March 14). Mental Health Woes Are  Rising in Young Americans – Is Social Media to Blame? HealthDay.

Ruch, Sheftall, and Schlagbaum. (2019, May 2017). Trends in Suicide Among Youth Aged 10 to 19 Years in the United States 1975 to 2016. JAMA Network Open.

Suttie, J. (2016, June 2014).  Five Ways Parents Can Help Prevent Teen Depression. Greater Good Magazine. Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley.

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, 128(3), 185-199. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/abn0000410

Taylor, S. (2012, April 28). The Power of Nature. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-darkness/201204/the-power-nature-ecotherapy-and-awakening

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