What’s Causing the Rise of Depression in the Modern Youth?

By: Miranda Cavada
Owlfeed Journalist

Depression is something that a large number of people our age experience regularly, even a lot more than we’d like to admit.

We should count ourselves lucky that we’re treating mental illness like the catastrophe it is. Pre-21st century, physical health was deemed more important than some “lunatic” who wasn’t “right” in the head.

So why are today’s kids predominantly more susceptible than the earlier generations?

Image: depressed woman sitting in the dark bedroom

As Gen Z kids, we’ve become one with social media and exponential technological advancements, having been accustomed to them since birth. The generations before us didn’t grow up playing computer games in kindergarten or relying on digital education when high school rolled around. I can hardly remember turning in paper assignments in non-math classes, and admittedly, sometimes I miss how simple it used to be. Sometimes I wish we could turn back time to the pre-Google classroom days where we used pen and paper and other resources that have grown obsolete.

A lot of Baby Boomers and Gen X members like to blame our mental decline on those pesky gadgets that even they, the most experienced of our time, can’t comprehend. We have an advantage over our elders in this case as they fail to see how they are beneficial to today’s age and often refuse to “get with the times.” In a sense, however, they’re right; technology has made today’s kids less social or connected to their peers since they can hide behind a screen and avoid face-to-face interaction that is essential to socialization.

But let’s not forget that this is the way it’s been since the beginning of human history. Past generations have never adapted to change well, and they’ve always blamed innovation on the “youngsters” who skew away from tradition. The truth is, things just can’t be the way they’ve always been; otherwise, how will we ever progress?

On the other hand, we have a problem that’s been in a steady incline for those born after 1981: mental illness. An array of illnesses have been discussed and taken into account in this era including depression, anxiety, stress, eating and personality disorders, etc. The evidence of their existence and prevalence is most obvious in the normality of school shootings that have made their mark in this century.

Columbine was the first domino of which would eventually lead to the downward spiral we face now. Eric Harris, one of the perpetrators, was diagnosed with psychopathy and chronic depression prior to the massacre, so mental illness was labeled as one of his many motivating factors. Perhaps this is the lowest common denominator, the prime cause of this outbreak, as “one in five kids [suffer] from a diagnosable mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder,” writes NBC News.

Social media has had the largest influence on young minds since the 2010s. As enjoyable and convenient as it is for us to live our lives texting instead of talking and scrolling Twitter feeds instead of reading books, it’s also not the healthiest. Technology writer Alvin Toffler’s book Future Shock, written back in the 70s, is possibly as relevant as ever, outlining our struggle with keeping up with rampant technological growth. So if this was a problem forty years ago, imagine how defined it is with artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and even something as seemingly simple as Snapchat.

How does this affect our happiness? Time Magazine writes “that including strangers in your social network may have a negative impact on your self-esteem.” Think about it: we’ll probably never meet the majority of our internet friends in person due to long distance and the barrier set between us. We can hide our true intentions behind anonymity. It’s far too easy nowadays, and that’s more harmful than we think. Along with that, the ability to access celebrity’s lives conveniently creates an inferiority complex among the young and vulnerable. This can lead to eating disorders caused by insecurity, for example.

Of course, everything depends on the mindset of the viewer. Technology can’t be the sole cause of our depression, but it’s surely one of the factors to blame. A lot of it has to do with our genetic predisposition to mental illness and the environment we grew up in. Anyone can be depressed ― even the wealthiest, most famous, most valued person can have dark thoughts from time to time.

If you want to delve deeper into this topic, I recommend watching the YouTube video titled “There will Never Ever be another cartoon like Spongebob Squarepants,” by EmpLemon which inspired me to write this article. Not only does it discuss the success of the longest running and most successful kids’ cartoon in history, but it delves into a darker, more serious message that is portrayed throughout, that we as kids never quite grasped until we got older. It’s interesting to see how a show we grew up watching impacted us in such a way, so if you have 26 minutes to spare, you’ll be mind-blown.