March 14 (UPI) -- A new study suggests that social media may be causing mental health problems in young people in the United States, which have risen sharply over the last decade.
Suicidal thoughts and actions from young adults spiked by nearly 50 percent between 2008 to 2017, according to findings from a study published Thursday in Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Additionally, young adults reported a more than 50 percent increase in major depressive symptoms between 2005 and 2017.
"These results suggest a need for more research to understand how digital communication versus face-to-face social interaction influences mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes and to develop specialized interventions for younger age groups," Jean Twenge, author of a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and study lead author, said in a news release.
The researchers examined drug and alcohol use, mental health and other health data collected between 2005 and 2017 for people ages 12 to 17 and between 2008 to 2017 for people over age 18 as part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The biggest jump in mental health issues for young adults was after 2011, which led researchers to think that cultural shifts, like the rise in social media use, might be causing the problem.
Between 2008 and 2017, the number of young adults who felt serious psychological distress shot up by 71 percent. From 2005 to 2017, adolescents with major depression symptoms rose by 52 percent, while young adults who felt those symptoms increased by 63 percent between 2009 to 2017.
The rise in digital media, particularly social media, the researchers say, throughout the last decade may have driven these grim mental health outcomes.
"Cultural trends in the last 10 years may have had a larger effect on mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes among younger generations compared with older generations," Twenge said.
They also suggest young people may be feeling worse because they haven't had enough sleep.
"First and most important is to get enough sleep. Make sure your device use doesn't interfere with sleep -- don't keep phones or tablets in the bedroom at night, and put devices down within an hour of bedtime," Twenge said. "Overall, make sure digital media use doesn't interfere with activities more beneficial to mental health such as face-to-face social interaction, exercise and sleep."