In partnership with Vicky Rideout and I, Common Sense Media created fact sheets based on our national study and I thought I’d share slices of data in a series of posts.
The complete survey findings, methodology, quotes from participants, fact sheets, and questionnaire are available here.
Here’s the 10-second summary for this featured group, young people living with depressive symptoms:
Four in ten young people (38%) report symptoms of moderate to severe depression, up from 25% in 2018. Teens and young adults with depression are highly engaged in digital health pursuits. They are also far more likely to say that using social media makes them feel better rather than worse when they are feeling down.
Here are the details:
The survey included the eight-item Patient Health Questionnaire depression scale (PHQ-8):
Over the last 2 weeks, how often have you been bothered by the following problems?
- Little interest or pleasure in doing things
- Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless
- Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Feeling tired or having little energy
- Poor appetite or overeating
- Feeling bad about yourself – or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down
- Trouble concentrating on things – such as reading the newspaper or watching television
- Moving or speaking so slowly that other people could have noticed. Or, the opposite – being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual
- Not at all
- Several days
- Over half the days
- Nearly every day
Rates of depressive symptoms have increased substantially among teens and young adults over the past two years; those directly affected by the coronavirus have higher rates than others their age.
- 38% of all 14- to 22-year-olds report symptoms of moderate to severe depression, up from 25% in 2018.
- Among young people who say that they or a family member became sick from the coronavirus, half (51%) report symptoms of moderate to severe depression, compared to 36% of others their age.
Social media has played an important role in keeping youth informed and connected during the coronavirus pandemic.
- About half (53%) of young people say social media has been “very” important to them during the pandemic for staying connected to friends and family, and about a third say social media has been “very” important for staying informed about current events (34%) and understanding how to protect themselves against the virus (31%).
Young people are far more likely to say that using social media makes them feel better rather than worse when they are feeling down; those with depressive symptoms consider social media even more important than others their age do.
- 43% of all 14- to 22-year-old social media users say that when they feel depressed, stressed, or anxious, using social media usually makes them feel better, compared to just 17% who say it makes them feel worse (the rest say it makes no difference either way). This is up from 27% who said social media made them feel better in 2018.
- Among those with moderate to severe depressive symptoms, 29% say social media is “very” important for getting inspiration from others (vs. 17% for those without symptoms), 28% say it’s “very” important for feeling less alone (vs. 13%), and 26% say it’s “very” important for getting support or advice when needed (vs. 15%).
Young people with moderate to severe depressive symptoms use social media far more frequently than others their age, and their use of social media has increased over the past two years.
- Young people with moderate to severe depressive symptoms are nearly twice as likely as those without depression to say they use social media “almost constantly” (34% vs. 18%).
- In 2018, 21% of youth with moderate to severe depressive symptoms used social media “almost constantly”; today, 34% do.
- The percent of those with depression who say social media is “very” important for getting support and advice has more thandoubled since 2018, from 11% to 26%.
Among young people reporting symptoms of severe depression, social media may pose greater concerns.
- 5% of our survey sample report experiencing symptoms of “severe” levels of depression. Since this group represents a small sample size, findings should be viewed with extreme caution.
- There are indications that social media plays an outsized role among this small group: It’s more important for inspiration (43% say it’s “very” important, vs. 17% of those without depression) and feeling less alone (49% say “very” important, vs. 13%), but it’s also more likely to make respondents feel anxious, lonely, or depressed (42% say using social media during the pandemic has made them feel more anxious, compared to 10% of those without depression).
Digital health tools are popular:
- Fully 86% of young people living with depressive symptoms have gone online to look for health information and three out of four (75%) have used mobile apps related to health.
- Young people living with depressive symptoms are more likely than other young people to have connected with providers online (58% vs. 37%) and to have tried to connect online with others facing similar health concerns (51% vs. 28%).
Our survey is one window into the lives of teens and young adults. I hope it’s useful for those who seek to inject data and young people’s own voices into the public conversation.
Which data points resonate with you? Which surprise you? Please let me know what you think in the comments.
Special thanks to Alanna Peebles, PhD, of Common Sense for preparing these fact sheets:
- COVID-19, depression, and social media use / El coronavirus, la depresión y el uso de redes sociales entre adolescentes y adultos jóvenes (de 14 a 22 años).
- Black youth
- Hispanic/Latinx youth / La salud mental, las prácticas de salud digital y el uso de redes sociales entre adolescentes y adultos jóvenes hispanos / latinos en Estados Unidos (de 14 a 22 años).
- LGBTQ+ youth
- Female youth
- Problematic substance use
Featured image courtesy of Common Sense Media.