Why is everyone so depressed?

Why Is Everyone I Know Depressed?

I was cruising around on Facebook recently and noticed something different. Usually, I felt inundated by #blessed pics of friends in bikinis looking happier than Oprah eating bread. But not today. There were no pictures of the beach or not-so-humble brags about their latest promotions. The No. 1 status update of the day: depression.

It suddenly seemed like most my friends were suddenly crippled by depression and anxiety. And this wasn’t just Facebook friends, either. Real people in my real life started talking to me about their mental health issues. And honestly, it was happening to me too: I’d just started therapy and was only a few months away from a Zoloft prescription. What had happened? Why does it suddenly seem like so many millennials are dealing with depression?

I’m far from the first person to notice this trend. Jean Twenge, Ph.D., published Generation Me, a book all about the rise of depression and anxiety in millennials, in 2014. According to Twenge, only 1-2 percent of people born before 1915 experienced a major depression during their lives. Now that number’s up to 15-20 percent of the population. A survey comparing students from 1937 to 2007 found that modern students were seven times more likely to be depressed.

And of course, there are all the people who don’t admit to depression. Twenge conducted a survey that compared teenagers from 2010s to the 1980s. The 2010s teens were 38 percent more likely to have trouble remembering things, 78 percent more likely to have sleeping troubles, and twice as likely to have visited a professional about their mental health concerns. That might not sound like much, but trouble remembering, sleeping, and seeking professional help are all major signs of depression. But when the teens were asked, “Are you depressed?” the numbers from the ’80s and 2010s were practically the same. Young people have been feeling common symptoms of depression without realizing or admitting that they have a problem.

Why is this happening? Sure, the world is a little crazy at the moment, but we also live in a time of extreme privilege. People have unrivaled access to technology, millennials never had to deal with the draft, and we have access to the glory that is Netflix. How could we be so unhappy?

There are several reasons. If you’re someone who thinks contemporary technologies are a blight on modern life, experts can back that feeling up: A study published in PLOS One found that going on Facebook made users feel less satisfied with their daily lives and less happy from moment to moment. Basically, logging onto Facebook made them pretty immediately sad. Another study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that the more young people used social media, the more depressed they became. Those are only two of many studies that say Facebook is the devil, and it leaves nothing but sadness in its wake.

It’s not shocking to think that constantly looking at pictures of other people having fun while you’re sitting in a crappy apartment (speaking from experience) would have an adverse effect on your mental health. But not all the evidence blames social media. A study conducted at UC San Diego found positive effects of Facebook: Combing through thousands of posts from 2009-2012, researchers found that positivity spread through the social media more than negativity. A happy message from a friend led others to post their own positive messages and left the users happier than before.

In the end, I think it’s likely that social media makes you feel sad when you’re already sad and makes you feel good when you want to feel good. You know how you search out sad songs when you’re heartbroken? Well, when we’re in a bad mood, we look to Instagram for a perfectly toned girl to make us feel inferior and give us a reason to feel like garbage.

Other experts think social media is just one of many problems of modern life that’s causing millennial sadness. Twenge partially blames the rise of singlehood for the rise of depression: Since people are often staying single well into their 20s and 30s, the likelihood of loneliness and isolation is increased, she says.

But in my opinion, people getting married late is far from the biggest problem. Yes, millennials and younger people experience more isolation than generations past. I work from home, so if I see anyone besides my husband and a Trader Joe’s clerk, I’ve had a pretty social week. But the idea that simply being single is leading the charge of depression and anxiety feels wrong. The fact that women don’t feel the need to get married right out of school is a sign of progress. Yes, being single can be stressful, but far less stressful than being pressured into marriage when you’re not ready.

Therapist Alison Crosthwait has a different hypothesis. She says that the obsession with material things is a major part of the problem. “Materialism is a straight path to feeling empty,” she explains. Since many millennials are obsessed with getting the latest iPhone or literally keeping up with the Kardashians, it’s made many of us ungrounded and unfulfilled.

Stefan Taylor, the founder of ADHD Boss, who’s worked extensively with depressed and anxious youth, agrees that all those things contribute to unhappiness. He adds that the super-competitive gig economy isn’t helping things either. “You might have to scrape and claw your way out of a difficult financial situation,” Taylor says about millennial financial prospects. According to Forbes, 39 percent of workers aged 18-24 worked a side job while 44 percent of employees aged 35-44 had a side hustle in addition to working full-time.

Though the rise of quick-pseudo-employment apps like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Fiverr may seem like a boon to kids who just want to make an extra buck, it’s actually a sign of difficult economic times. Younger generations aren’t making enough from a single job (and are often saddled with thousands of dollars in student loan debt). So they have to spend their spare moments driving people around to be able to afford rent (in an apartment they likely share with a roommate). Other millennials have become so obsessed with possessions, they have to work around the clock to afford “the good life.” Either way, it’s not a great situation.

So after examining the work of experts and taking in all the studies, I can only come to one conclusion: Everything in the world is terrible, and depression will rise forever until we live in a world of Eeyores.

OK, that might be a bit much, but if seemingly everything about modern life is contributing to a rise in depression, what are we supposed to do? Well, it might not be so dire—not everyone agrees that depression is taking over.

In their book The Loss of Sadness, Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield refute claims of rising depression. They suggest that the growth in diagnosed mental illness isn’t actually due to an increase in depressed people, rather that therapists have been relaxing the definition of depression. In 1980, research scientists wanted to measure depression more easily and reliably. So instead of being based on cases of extreme disorder, the criteria was widened to include people with less severe symptoms.

Horwitz and Wakefield claim that this new system leads ordinary sadness to sometimes being diagnosed as a mental illness, or “medicalized sadness.” Basically, the rise of depression is just a huge case of misdiagnoses.

Whether the depression wave is real or exaggerated, there is some good in the rise of mental illness: As a culture, we’re starting to become more accepting of those who suffer from depression. People aren’t as ostracized or called “crazy” for dealing with mental illness as they were. It’s becoming more just a thing a lot of us have to deal with.

So why are we all depressed? Nobody really knows. Most agree that taking a break from social media, stressing less about work, and finding more IRL human connection can help relieve sadness. But that’s not always possible, and might not help people currently struggling.

Still, with people seeking mental health care in greater numbers and feeling comfortable in sharing their pain, there’s hope. Sure, I was depressed, and so were most of my friends. But it doesn’t last forever. And soon enough, my Facebook feed will be #blessed again.

Amber Petty is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. If you like easy crafts and Simpsons GIFs, check out her blog, Half-Assed Crafts.

Why Does Everyone Suddenly Have Depression?

  • Depression

By Steve Levine, M.D. October 9, 2019

About the AuthorDr. Steven P. Levine is a board-certified psychiatrist internationally recognized for his contributions to advancements in mental health care. Though he is a psychiatrist who places great emphasis on the importance of psychotherapy, medication is often a necessary component of treatment, and he was dissatisfied with the relatively ineffective available options with burdensome side effects. Dr. Levine pioneered a protocol for the clinical use of ketamine infusions, has directly supervised many thousands of infusions and has helped establish similar programs across the country and around the world.

21st Century Experiences Rise in Depression Diagnoses

If you differentiate between a transient feeling and a medical condition, this may be to blame for “why everyone is depressed”, suddenly.

1 in 14 people in the United States is struggling with clinical depression right now, and the lifetime risk for people in the United States is 1 in 5.¹ That’s:

  • 23,000,000 million Americans who are clinically depressed right now.
  • 65,000,000 million Americans who will have depression at least once in their lives.

Why Everyone is Depressed?

These figures, especially to those of us who lived before the 21st century, don’t seem plausible. Where were these depressed people back in the day? The mind needs an answer to relieve ambiguity, often turning to explanations like:

  • Collapse in morality
  • Rapid pace of technology causing unhappiness
  • Inaccuracy due to over-diagnosing by pill-pushing doctors

Why Everyone is Depressed More than Our Parents’ Generation?

The numbers, however, may be surprisingly accurate, painting the picture of a real epidemic that’s been around for a long time. Depression and psychiatry are very recent constructs in the course of human history. Even now, the western definition of depression is culturally-bound and unaccepted (or unknown) in other parts of the world. But we have known these conditions worldwide for many centuries, often ascribing irrational labels to what we saw:

  • Humoral dispositions
  • Character defects
  • Moral shortcomings
  • Demonic possession (especially with schizophrenia)

With advances in medical science (e.g. genetic revelations and brain imaging studies), the picture is coming into focus and it’s one of depression as a condition outside the dominion of well-wishing, religious ceremony, or willpower. This same science provides us with statistical estimations of how many people are suffering, and though the numbers are extraordinarily large, the reason is not as simple as healthy people getting “hooked” on antidepressants.

We are facing a global epidemic that’s been raging unnoticed for a long time, but we’re making breakthroughs, ketamine treatment being one. Rest assured that our Actify team, along with other scientists and doctors, are at the forefront of mental health science. We will not stop pushing forward as long as 350,000,000 people worldwide currently suffer from depression—a very real, insidious affliction. Ketamine is an early example of new thinking in mental health that is headed toward precise understanding, advanced treatments, and one day, the elimination of depression entirely.


1. AFSP. Suicide Stats.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Data & Statistics Fatal Injury Report for 2016.

Steven Levine, MD is the Chief Medical Officer of Actify. He has been treating patients with ketamine therapy since 2011.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, you are not alone; it’s practically a fact of life on college campuses. A poll conducted by mtvU and the Associated Press in the spring of 2009 reported that 85% of students say they experience stress on a daily basis.

Stress is good if it motivates you but it’s bad if it wears you down. Many factors can contribute to the stress you experience, and this stress can cause changes in your body that affect your overall physical, mental, and emotional health.

Depression is more serious and long-lasting than stress, and requires a different kind of help. In a 2010 survey by the American College Health Association, 28% of college students reported feeling so depressed at some point they had trouble functioning, and 8% sought treatment for depression.

The good news is that depression is a highly treatable condition. However, it’s not something you can snap out of by yourself, so it’s important to get help. How do you tell the difference between stress and depression? Both can affect you in similar ways, but there are key differences. Symptoms of depression can be much more intense. They last at least two weeks. Depression causes powerful mood changes, such as painful sadness and despair. You may feel exhausted and unable to act.

Here are common signs of stress and depression. Which fits you best?

Common Signs of Stress

Common Signs of Depression

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Problems with memory
  • Problems concentrating
  • Change in eating habits
  • Feeling nervous or anxious
  • Feeling angry, irritable or easily frustrated
  • Feeling burned out from studying or schoolwork
  • Feeling that you can’t overcome difficulties in your life
  • Trouble functioning in class or in your personal life
  • Withdrawing from other people
  • Feeling sad and hopeless
  • Lack of energy, enthusiasm and motivation
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Being restless, agitated and irritable
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble with memory
  • Feeling bad about yourself or feeling guilty
  • Anger and rage
  • Feeling that you can’t overcome difficulties in your life
  • Trouble functioning in your class or in your personal life
  • Thoughts of suicide

Reducing Stress

If you are stressed out, there are many good ways to get relief. Drinking or taking drugs however, won’t solve anything and can lead to more problems. Here are some constructive choices:

Make a plan

Figure out what is really causing the stress. Think of as many possible causes as you can, and write them down. Now brainstorm for solutions that will reduce the stress, and commit them to paper. A trusted friend, family member or school counselor may be able to offer some good ideas as well. Now choose a few solutions to start tackling the issues. If they are complicated, break them down in to manageable chunks. Then give your plan a try. If one particular solution doesn’t help, try another one. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s all a part of the process.

Get the stress out

Remember to take breaks when you feel worried or stuck. Do something relaxing every day. Sing, dance, and laugh–anything to burn off the energy.

Take care of your body

A healthy body can help you manage stress. Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep, eat healthy food, stay hydrated and exercise regularly. Go easy on the caffeine. Shorting yourself on sleep, and especially pulling an all-nighter, robs you of energy and your ability to concentrate. A healthy diet improves your ability to learn. Don’t skip breakfast.

Don’t suffer in silence

Get support, whether from family, friends, your academic advisor, campus counseling center, or a trusted online community. A heart-to-heart talk with someone you trust can help you get rid of toxic feelings and may even give you a fresh perspective.

If these steps don’t bring relief, or if you are still unable to cope and feel as if the stress is affecting how you function every day, it could be something more acute and chronic–like depression. Don’t let it go unchecked!

Getting Help for Depression

If you think you might be depressed, take a depression screening. Print out the results or e-mail them to yourself and then show them to a counselor or doctor.

To get help, start with your student health center or counseling service on campus. Most community colleges provide limited free mental health services and can refer you to local providers for longer-term treatment. You can also talk to your family doctor. Your local Mental Health America (MHA) affiliate can refer or in some cases provide services as well. To find the nearest MHA affiliate, call 800-969-6642 or go to Find An Affiliate.

Remember, depression and other mental health conditions are nothing to be ashamed of. Depression is not a sign of weakness, and seeking help is a sign of strength. Telling someone you are struggling is the first step toward feeling better. You will need the help of a mental health professional to beat depression. Talk therapy, antidepressant medication or a combination can be very effective.

In crisis? If you or someone you know is in crisis now, seek help immediately. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center or dial 911 for immediate assistance.

Learn More

The American Institute of Stress
Phone: (682) 239-6823

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
Phone: (800) 826-3632

Active Minds
Phone: (202) 332-9595

Anxiety Disorders of America
Phone: (240) 485-1001

Freedom From Fear
Phone: (718) 351-1717

National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH)
Phone: (866) 615-6464

Amen Clinics
Phone: (888) 564-2700

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