Teens More Stressed Now Than During Great Depression

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Teens

More of today's teens are reporting anxiety and depression. Credit: Getty Images

A study that tracks the emotional and mental health of high school and college students reveals that kids are more stressed now than they were during the Great Depression.

The study, which looked at responses to a psychological questionnaire used as far back as 1938, confirms that students are struggling with life's stresses now more than ever before, according to a story in USA Today.

Researchers at five universities looked at the responses of 77,756 high school and college kids who took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) between 1938 and 2007. Their findings? Kids have a much higher rate of several mental health issues, including clinical depression (6 percent now, 1 percent in 1938) and "hypomania," a measure of anxiety and unrealistic optimism (5 percent in 1938 and 31 percent now).

"It's another piece of the puzzle -- that yes, this does seem to be a problem, that there are more young people who report anxiety and depression," Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor and the study's lead author, tells USA Today. "The next question is: What do we do about it?'"

Twenge points out that the numbers may even be low, given that many students may be taking antidepressants or other psychotropic medications to alleviate the symptoms that the survey specifically asks about.

Another alarming result of the study is that more students showed increased "psychopathic deviation." This condition is loosely related to psychopathic behavior in a milder form, and is defined as feeling that rules don't apply to you and struggling with authority. The percentage of young people who scored high in that category went from 5 percent in 1938 to 24 percent in 2007.

Parents -- who may be part of the problem with the modern tendency to hover -- say they see the differences in today's culture. One mother from northern New Jersey, whose daughter is being treated for depression, tells the newspaper she doesn't remember her teen years being "this hard."

"We all wanted to be popular, but there wasn't this emphasis on being perfect and being super skinny," says the unidentified mom. "In addition, it's 'How much do your parents make?' I'd like to think that's not relevant, but I can't imagine that doesn't play a role."

Are helicopter parents responsible for this new trend, or is society at large to blame?

Related: Stress in Children and Teens

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