Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Today, young people are more likely to suffer from depression and self-harm than they were 10 years ago, even as substance abuse and anti-social behavior continue to fall, a new study says.
Depression levels rose to nearly 15 percent among people born between the early 1990s to 2000, while self-harm rates increased to 14 percent, research published Thursday in the International Journal of Epidemiology shows.
"It has seemed for a while that mental health difficulties in young people are on the rise, but this study really highlights the scale at which this increase might be occurring," said Suzanne Gage, a researcher at University of Liverpool and study co-author, in a news release. "It's not just that we're getting better at measuring depressive symptoms, as identical questions about depressive symptoms were asked in both cohorts. The next step is to understand why these increases are occurring, so young people can be supported better."
At the same time, it appears substance abuse among young people may also be declining. For example, more than half of young people born in the early 90s consumed alcohol by age 14 versus 44 percent of those born 10 years later.
The study suggests that the spike in depression might be linked, at least in part, to the body mass index of young people.
The research showed that obesity rates among young people nearly doubled over a decade from less than 4 percent to more than 7 percent. Also, 29 percent of the group born at the turn of the century thought they were overweight compared to 23 percent of those born in the early 1990s.
"The increasing trends of poor sleep, obesity and negative body image might help explain rising mental health difficulties experienced by young people. Where the trends are moving in opposite directions - decreasing substance use and antisocial behavior - the interpretation becomes more complicated," said Praveetha Patalay, a researcher at University College London and study co-author. "Understanding the nature of these associations and their dynamic nature over time could be valuable in identifying what the risk factors are for mental health problems, and might help us find potential targets for interventions."
Patalay added: "Striking increases in mental health difficulties, BMI and poor sleep-related behaviors highlight an increasing public health challenge. Identifying explanations for these high prevalences and changing trends are key for preventing further poor physical and mental health for future generations of young people."