Skip to main content

Rapid increase in depression among teens: Look beyond pandemic, digital media

By Bharat Dogra

A rapid increase in mental health problems has been reported by several studies among children and adolescents (roughly the age-group 7-17) in several rich countries, particularly during the last decade or so. Such a trend is visible even in studies that end in early or mid-2019, or before this, and hence entirely exclude any COVID impacts. At the same time, there is enough evidence of the situation deteriorating further in COVID times. In addition among all adults, mental health problems are increasingly reported to be the highest in the youngest adult group (18-24). In the USA as well as in Europe, suicide is the second highest cause of death in this entire age-group (7-24).
A widely used data for USA is for approximately one sixth of children and adolescents being affected by mental health problems. However some other statistics suggest that the situation may be even more serious in the USA. Statistics of Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, USA, ( as cited in the Psychiatry Advisor 30.4.2021, paper by Tori Rodriguez), inform us that in 2009 , as many as 26% of school students were affected by persistent sadness or hopelessness and this had increased to 37% in 2019, surely a very worrying trend. During the same decade, among these students, serious contemplation of suicide increased from 14% to 19%, suicide planning from 11% to 16% and suicide attempts from 6% to 9%. Again this should be a cause for very great concern.
According to the National institute of Mental Health, 3 million US adolescents experienced major depression in 2020, and two-thirds of them received no treatment. This is deeply disturbing, also because of longer-term impacts. A third of those who suffer from childhood depression make at least one suicide attempt in their life. According to a study published in the Lancet in 2020, in the 9-10 years age, 1 in 12 children had suicide thoughts. Parents of nearly half of children having suicide thoughts are unaware of this.
Several studies have tried to find sources of greater vulnerability—according to a 2018 study published in JAMA Pediatrics in the age group 5-12, double the suicide rate is reported for black children. According to Trevor Project, 42% of LGBTQ youth in the USA covered in their study had experienced suicide thoughts. Predictably those who are victims of abuse and neglect have been found to have higher suicide rate. Those living in care have higher rates than those living with their families. In the context of bullying, not just the victims but also the perpetrators of bullying have a higher suicide rate. By the age of 13, a third of bullies have already considered ending their life, according to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Access to and familiarity with weapons is another serious factor. Children living in families having guns have suicide rates four times higher than those growing up in families without guns.
Dr. Jean M. Twenge of the Department of Psychology, San Diego University, has played an important role in drawing attention to the role of social media in high rates of mental health problems among adolescents.
In her paper in Psychiatric Research and Clinical Practice, 27 March 2020, she cites several studies which establish very tragic increase in mental health problems of children and adolescents even before the advent of COVID. These studies show, among other conclusions, a very worrying increase in depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and suicide during the period roughly of 2009 to mid-2019. Emergency room visits for suicidal ideation and attempts nearly doubled among children and adolescents. Suicides among girls in 10-14 year group doubled. Cases of self-poisoning among girls of 10-12 years age-group quadrupled. In the age-group of 10-14 years for girls, hospital admissions for self-harm tripled.
What is happening? In her paper titled ‘Increase in depression, self-harm and suicide among US adolescents after 2012 and links in technology use :possible mechanisms’, Jean Twenge attributes this largely to the spurt of digital media and use of smartphones during this period. While this is certainly an important factor, this is unlikely to be a complete explanation of such significant trends.
Such disturbing trends are reported also from several other rich countries. According to UNICEF annual report on children for 2021 , in Europe in the 15-19 age group, 19% boys and 16% girls are affected by mental health disorders. In the 10-19 year age-group 9 million teenagers in Europe are affected by mental health disorders, one half of them by depression and anxiety. A WHO report said in 2020 that 1 out of 4 children in Europe are affected by nervousness, irritation and problems in getting to sleep. 35% had started drinking alcohol by age 15. 10% had experienced cyber-bullying in the last two months. Only 41% of boys and 33% of girls said they were mentally healthy. A German health insurance company DAK stated in 2019 that 1 in 4 German children were affected by mental illness problems.
While the emphasis of several studies has been understandably on more recent trends, there are other studies from the last decades of the previous century which also reveal a disturbing trend. A study of 15 year old British girls in more prosperous sections of society revealed a high and increasing trend of mental health problems-- startling increase from 24% to 38% from 1987 to 1999. However such a trend was not noticed by this study in the less prosperous sections.
Hence it is important to look beyond only more recent factors like the pandemic or sharp rise in digital media and form a more comprehensive understanding of socio-economic factors which are responsible for the high and rising trend of mental health disorders among children, adolescents and young adults. To be effective in checking this disturbing trend, more familiar and specific steps need to be accompanied by policy reform at several levels.
---
The writer is Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘Planet in Peril' and ‘Man Over Machine—A Path to Peace'

Comments

TRENDING

Sorry state of Indian academics: why was I thrown out of Delhi varsity interview room?

By Dr. Abhay Kumar*  The interview for the post of political science (Guest) was scheduled on Saturday afternoon, September 10, 2022. Given my previous experience, I was not willing to appear for it. But friends persuaded me to go and fight for our rights. I reached the college well before the time. When my turn came and I entered the room. The first question was asked about my experience. I said that I had taught for four semesters at NCWEB. I mentioned that I had taught ”Comparative politics”, “International Relations”, “Comparative Political Thoughts” and “Indian Government and Politics”. I said that as a teacher I had taught all the articles listed in the syllabus of the same Delhi University and the expert could ask anything about any reading or ideas. Friends, the first question asked by a female member, perhaps she is the principal of the college if I am not wrong, to give the full form of NCWEB! The second question asked by a male expert, perhaps he is the political science dep

Musician and follower of Dr Ambedkar? A top voilinist has this rare combination!

Some time back, a human rights defender, Vidya Bhushan Rawat, who frequently writes for Counterview, forwarded to me a video interview with Guru Prabhakar Dhakade, calling him one of India's well known violinists.  Dhakade is based in Nagpur and has devoted his life for the Hindustani classical music. A number of his disciples have now been part of Hindi cinema world in Mumbai, says Rawat. He has performed live in various parts of the country as well as abroad. What however attracted me was Dhakade's assertions in video about Dr BR Ambedkar, India's undisputed Dalit icon. Recorded several years back at his residence and music school in Nagpur, Dhakade not only speaks candidly about issues he faced, but that he is a believer in Dr Ambedkar's philosophy. It is in this context that Dhakade narrates his problems, even as stating that he is determined to achieve his goal. A violinist and a follower of Ambedkar? This was new to me. Rarely do musicians are found to take a

Tokens, symbols or incipient feminists? : First generation women sociologists in India

By IMPRI Team  The online event on the theme ‘Tokens, Symbols or Incipient Feminists? : The first Generation of Women Sociologists in India’ was held as an initiative of Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi under the #WebPolicyTalk series of The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps. Inaugurating the session, Zubiya Moin welcomed the speaker and participants to the program, followed by an introduction to the eminent panelists. Commencing the program, Prof Vibhuti Patel made her opening remarks welcoming Prof Kamla Ganesh, Feminist Sociologists and then greeted Prof Ratna Naidu and the editors of book ‘Reimaging Sociology in India: Feminist Perspective’, Dr Gita Chadha and Dr. Joseph M.T. along with Prof Arvinder Ansari and also welcomed all participants. She set up the stage by making us familiar with women sociologists and their works. Dr Gita Chadha, Editor of the book ‘Reimaging Sociology in India: Feminist Perspective’ After th

Omission of duty by BSF and police: Hindu forcefully kidnapped, taken to Bangladesh

Kirity Roy, Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), & National Convenor, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI) writes to the Chairman, National Human Rights Commission: *** I am writing this to focus on the life and situation of the poor and marginalized villagers living alongside the Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal. Through the several complaints we made throughout the years to your good office, it is now evident that the people of this border are living in an acute crisis, not only from a financial perspective but also in terrible distress. The people of the border are devoid of their basic rights and are subjected to immense torture, harassment and restrictions mostly enacted by the Border Security Force personnel, who are supposed to be posted at the international borders with intentions to protect the Indian citizenry. However, on the contrary, incidents of victimizing Indian citizens are being witnessed at large by the BSF. 130 Bhot

Emerging dimensions of India’s foreign policy in the context of global politics

By IMPRI Team  The three-day course took place recently, providing participants with an understanding of the development of Indian foreign policy, the complexity of geopolitics, and its flexibility to adjust to and even shape global outcomes. Many distinguished academics, senior scholars, former Indian diplomats, and journalists who are skilled observers and commentators of India’s foreign policy will serve as instructors for this course. Day 1 The three-day immersive online certificate training on “Emerging Dimensions of India’s Foreign Policy and Global Politics”, an initiative by the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), began on July 14th, 2022 at 5:00 PM (IST) on Zoom platform. Dr Souravie Ghimiray served as the emcee throughout the 3 days of the event and welcomed the distinguished speakers of Day 1. The esteemed panel on Day 1 consisted of, Dr Soumita Basu, Associate Professor, Department of Intern

Demographic parameters of India@75: resource allocation, political representation

By IMPRI Team  As per UN Population Prospects 2022, India is going to be the most populous country in the world. In this regard, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi with #IMPRI Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) , organized a panel discussion, #WebPolicyTalk, as part of the series The State of Population Development- #PopulationAnd Development on India@75: Most Populous Country? The moderator of the event was Mr Devender Singh, Global Studies Programme, University of Freiburg and a Visiting Senior Fellow at IMPRI. The panellists for the event were Prof P.M Kulkarni, Demographer, Retired Professor of Population Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU) , New Delhi; Dr U.V Somayajulu, Co-Founder, CEO and Executive Director, Sigma Research and Consulting ; Dr Sonia George, General Secretary, Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Kerala; Prof K.S James, Director and Senior Professor, International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai. Th

Tamil Nadu govt claiming to reform Hindu religion, temples. People deserve better

By NS Venkataraman  For the last several decades, there have been hate campaign against Hinduism in Tamil Nadu in a subtle or not so subtle manner. Initially, it was a hate campaign against brahmins and the brahmins were abused, insulted and physically attacked. Fearing such conditions, many brahmin families left Tamil Nadu to settle down in other states in India or have gone abroad. Now, the brahmin population in Tamil Nadu is at microscopic level, for which these hate campaigners against brahmins were responsible. Later on, emboldened by the scenario of scared brahmin families not resisting and running away, the hate campaigners started focusing on Hindus. For some years, when M.G.Ramachandran and Jayalalitha were the chief ministers of the state, the hate Hindu campaigners were not much heard, as both these chief ministers were staunch believers in Hindu philosophy and have been offering prayers in temples in full public view. However, in the last eighteen months in

Bhagawat Gita shows the way for the attitude to life and desirable goal of life

By NS Venkataraman*  When a mother delivers a human body, this body has no identity. Then, parents, relatives, friends consult each other and discuss the alternate appropriate names and arrive at a suitable name for this human body and this body is known and identified by this name. This human body, which steadily grow just like animals, plants and others and after experiencing the pleasures and pains of worldly life alternately for several years, perish one day, for the body to be burnt or buried. This body, bearing a name as it’s identity, comes in to the world and goes away from the world and the name that is the identity for the body also goes away along with the body. This is the scenario for several thousands of years that have gone by. The question: One question that does not seem to be still “convincingly explained” in a way that will appeal to the brain in the human body, is as to whether this human body only consists of flesh, bone and blood with well

Implementing misleading govt order to pollute Hyderabad's 100 year old reservoirs

Senior activists* represent to the Telangana Governor on GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by the Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MA&UD), Government of Telangana: ‘...restrictions imposed under para 3 of said GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996 are removed...’: *** Ref: GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996: ‘To prohibit polluting industries, major hotels, residential colonies or other establishments that generate pollution in the catchment of the lakes upto 10kms from full tank level as per list in Annexure-I...’ We come to your office with grievance that GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by Government of Telangana not only contains false information issued ‘By Order and in the name of the Governor of Telangana’ , without any scientific or expert reports, but also that implementation of the said GO is detrimental and can be catastrophic to the Hyderabad city as two 100 year old reservoirs Osman Sagar and Himayath Sagar were constructed as dams on river Moosa and river Esa, with the first and

Tattoos and intimidating gestures can't always win cricket matches for India

By Sudhansu R Das  Team India waited with baited breath for the outcome of the Pakistan vs Afghanistan match. Speculation was on about India’s return to the game if Pakistan loses to Afghanistan until Pakistan’s tailender, Naseem hit two massive sixes to win the match for Pakistan. Unfortunately, Afghanistan lost the match after being in a strong position till the last over of the game; two full touch balls in the final over turned the match into Pakistan side. The Afghanistan team would never forget this blunder and shock for a long time. India’s team management should introspect and take tough decision keeping in view of the tough match situation in the world cup matches. India lost two crucial matches in the Asia Cup. It could not defend a big total of 176 against Pakistan due to mediocre bowling attack, sloppy fielding and unimaginative captainship. It failed against Sri Lanka in similar fashion; it could not defend another respectable T 20 total of 171 runs. It was a pat