Around 2012, something started going wrong in the lives of teens.
In just the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of U.S. teens who felt useless and joyless — classic symptoms of depression — surged 33 percent in large national surveys. Teen suicide attempts increased 23 percent. Even more troubling, the number of 13-to-18-year-olds who committed suicide jumped 31 percent.
In a new paper published in Clinical Psychological Science, my colleagues and I found that the increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide appeared among teens from every background: more privileged and less privileged, across all races and ethnicities, and in every region of the country. All told, our analysis found that the generation of teens I call “iGen” — those born after 1995 — is much more likely to experience mental-health issues than their millennial predecessors.
What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide? After scouring several large surveys for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.