Time Period and Birth Cohort Differences in Depressive Symptoms in the U.S., 1982–2013

Abstract

Across four surveys (N = 6.9 million), Americans reported substantially higher levels of depressive symptoms, particularly somatic symptoms, in the 2000s–2010s compared to the 1980s–1990s. High school students in the 2010s (vs. the 1980s) reported more somatic symptoms (e.g., trouble sleeping, thinking, and remembering; shortness of breath) and were twice as likely to have seen a professional for mental issues. College students in recent years (vs. the 1980s) were more likely to report feeling overwhelmed and to believe they were below average in mental and physical health, but were less likely to say they felt depressed. Total Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression scores were higher among adults in 2000 (vs. 1988), especially somatic symptoms. Teens displayed less suicidal ideation in 2011 versus 1991 and were slightly less likely to commit suicide. Thus, more subtle symptoms of depression became more prevalent even as some overt indicators of depression became less prevalent.

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Correspondence to Jean M. Twenge.

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Twenge, J.M. Time Period and Birth Cohort Differences in Depressive Symptoms in the U.S., 1982–2013. Soc Indic Res 121, 437–454 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-014-0647-1

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Keywords

  • Depressive symptoms
  • Depression
  • Somatic symptoms
  • Generational differences
  • Birth cohort
  • Cultural change