Study says teens are more likely to have depression and commit self-harm compared to a decade ago
A new British study published in the Journal of Epidemiology suggests that young people are more likely to live with depression or commit self-harm compared to teens a decade ago. This is particularly surprising as the study also found that teens are less likely to show antisocial behavior or abuse substances, which were widely believed to be two of the biggest contributing factors to teen mental illness.
Rather, researchers at the University of Liverpool and University College London say poor sleep, obesity, and body image issues are fueling the latest wave of teen mental health issues.
The findings come from a review of data collected on millennials born a decade apart.
The youngest group included more than 11,000 14-year olds born in the UK between 2000 and 2001 as part of the Millennium Cohort Study.
The second group was made up of over 5,600 14-year olds born between 1991 and 1992 who were followed as part of the Bristol’s Children of the 90’s study.
In the new study, the researchers adjusted the data to be comparable to the Bristol teenagers and then compared the mental illness, substance abuse, poor sleep, and weight problem rates within the two groups.
According to the report, depression rates had jumped from approximately 9% in the older group to nearly 15% among teens born between 2000 and 2001. Additionally, self-harm rates had increased from 12% to 14%.
The researchers noted that while girls were more likely to report these behaviors in both groups, but the increased rates were similar among both males and females.
At the same time, the researchers found that both antisocial behavior and substance abuse had both fallen over the past decade despite being considered major predictors of poor mental health among teens.
The team observed that reports of 14-year-olds punching or kicking someone had dropped from 40% to 28%, while vandalism rates dropped from 6% to 4%.
Alcohol use among teens had also significantly decreased from 52% to 44% within a decade. Cigarette use went from 7% to barely 1% in the decade.
Meanwhile, poor sleep on weeknights, obesity rates, and body image issues had significantly risen.
The number of teens getting less than the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night had doubled from 6% to nearly 12%. Obesity rates had also nearly doubled from 4% to more than 7%.
While the study largely relates to British teens, it is likely that American teens are experiencing similar issues. Obesity rates continue to rise and poor-sleep remains a major issue across the country.
As co-author of the study Dr. Praveetha Patalay from University College London explained: “The increasing trends of poor sleep, obesity, and negative body image might help explain rising mental health difficulties experienced by young people. Where the trends are moving in opposite directions – decreasing substance use and antisocial behaviour – the interpretation becomes more complicated. Understanding the nature of these associations and their dynamic nature over time could be valuable in identifying what the risk factors are for mental health problems, and might help us find potential targets for interventions.”