Young Adult Depression

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In 2011, young adults (ages 18 to 29) living below the poverty line were twice as likely as those living at or above the poverty line to report suffering from two or more symptoms of depression in the past 30 days.

Importance

Young adulthood, defined here as between the ages of 18 and 29, is a time of great change for many people, and has been associated with greater risk of mental health problems and higher levels of social stress.[1],[2] The incidence of depression increases during adolescence and peaks in early adulthood.[3] While the causal picture is likely complex, unemployment and unrewarding job environments, such as those characterized by few low-level cognitive demands, minimal skills, and little autonomy (common features of many entry-level jobs), have been linked with depression among young adults.[4],[5] Among young men, higher job status is associated with lower levels of depression, whereas, for women, physically dangerous jobs are associated with higher levels of depression.[6]

In addition to changes connected with employment and schooling, early adulthood is often a time when people marry or begin to form families. While positive aspects of marriage often serve to protect against depression, new financial burdens, career demands, a poor adjustment to married life, and the birth of children among young couples can also lead to negative mental health outcomes, especially among women.[7] Maternal depression in particular can have adverse implications for children. Children of depressed mothers are more likely to act out (exhibit externalizing problem behaviors), perhaps due to depression's negative effects on parenting practices.[8] Finally, young adulthood coincides with the legal age for alcohol use. Young adults who engage in frequent drinking, or who smoke cigarettes, are more likely to experience depression.[9],[10]

Depression in adolescence is associated with higher levels of depression[11] and poorer health outcomes[12] in young adulthood. Young adults who suffer from depression are more likely to have problems with psychological functioning, interpersonal relationships, employment, and substance abuse, and to be more dissatisfied with life.[13],[14] They also show higher rates of absenteeism from work.[15] Close relationships with mothers, and feeling accepted by parents during adolescence, appear to be protective factors associated with a lower likelihood of depression in early adulthood.[16] 

Trends

101_fig1The share of young adults reporting symptoms of depression remained relatively constant between 1998 and 2011 (between four and five percent among those 18 to 24, and between three and six percent among those 25 to 29). In 2011, four percent of young adults ages 18 to 24, and five percent of adults ages 25 to 29, reported experiencing two or more symptoms of depression in the past 30 days. (Figure 1)

 

Differences by Age

Overall, young adults ages 18 to 24 are not significantly more likely than adults ages 25 to 29 to report depressive symptoms . (Figure 1) However, within specific groups, the prevalence of depressive symptoms increases with age. For example, among those in families receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps), seven percent of 18- to 24-year olds reported depressive symptoms, compared with 12 percent of 25- to 29-year olds. Due to small sample sizes, the significance of age-differences in depressive symptoms among TANF beneficiaries, and among people below the federal poverty line, cannot be determined. (Figure 2)

Differences by Poverty and Receipt of Public Assistance

101_fig2Young adults living in families with income below the poverty line, or whose families are receiving welfare or other benefits, are more likely than their more affluent peers to suffer from depressive symptoms. Among young adults 18 to 24 in 2011, seven percent of those living below the poverty line reported two or more symptoms of depression, compared with three percent of those living at or above the poverty line. Thirteen percent of those with a family member receiving TANF benefits (welfare) showed depressive symptoms, compared with four percent with no such family member. Among those with a family member receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps), seven percent showed depressive symptoms, compared with three percent with no family members receiving SNAP benefits. These disparities persists among older young adults, with nine percent of adults 25 to 29 living below poverty reporting symptoms of depression, compared with four percent of those adults living at or above the poverty line. In this age group, 12 percent of those in families receiving SNAP benefits, and three percent in families that did not, showed symptoms of depression. For those in families that received TANF 15 percent reported depressive symptoms, compared with four percent of those in families that did not receive TANF. (Figure 2)

Differences by Gender

101_fig3Among 18- to 24-year-olds, females are more likely than males to report symptoms of depression, a gap not found among 25-to 29-year-olds. In 2011, five percent of women 18 to 24 reported depressive symptoms, compared with three percent of men 18 to 24. (Figure 3)

 

 

 

 

 

Differences by Education Level

101_fig4Young adults with higher levels of education are less likely than other adults to suffer from depression. In 2011, one percent of young adults 25 to 29 with at least a bachelor's degree reported symptoms of depression, compared with six percent with some college or an associate's degree, and nine percent with less than a high school degree. There was no significant difference between young adults with a high school diploma and those without in the prevalence of depressive symptoms. (Figure 4)

 

Differences by Employment Status

101_fig5Young adults who are working are less likely than their unemployed peers to experience depression. The difference is more pronounced among older young adults. In 2011, 18- to 24-year-olds who were not working were somewhat more likely than those who were working to report symptoms of depression (six and three percent, respectively). However, 25- to 29-year- olds who were not employed were almost four times as likely as their working peers to report depressive symptoms (eleven and three percent, respectively). (Figure 5) For 18- to 24-year- olds, this difference has mostly remained constant over time, though showing some narrowing during times of economic recession, presumably when the social stigma of being unemployed is less (smaller gaps were between 2001 and 2002, and between 2008 and 2009). (Appendix 1) For 25- to 29-year-olds, the difference in depressive symptoms between workers and non-workers increased between 1999 and 2007, but has stayed constant since then. (Appendix 2)

Differences by Living Situation

In 2011, there were no significant differences in depressive symptoms by type of living situation: whether the young adult lived with their parents or not, and whether they were married, cohabitating with a partner, or neither. Young adults ages 18 to 24 were slightly more likely to show depressive symptoms if they were living with their own child, but this difference was not apparent among 25- to 29-year-olds. (Appendix 1 and Appendix 2)

State and Local Estimates

None available.

International Estimates

None available.

National Goals

The federal government's Healthy People 2020 initiative has outlined a goal to decrease the proportion of adults who experience a major depressive episode, and to increase the proportion of adults with depression who receive treatment.

More information is available here.

Related Indicators

What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator

Anti-depressant medication, alone or in conjunction with cognitive-behavioral therapy, has been shown to be effective in treatment of some types of depression. For more information, see The Use  of Medication in Treating Childhood and Adolescent Depression: Information for  Patients and Families, Prepared by the American Psychiatric Association and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in consultation with A National Coalition of Concerned Parents, Providers, and Professional Associations.

Also, see Child Trends' LINKS database ("Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully"), for reviews of many rigorously evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be effective:

Note: Child Trends does not provide medical advice or diagnosis. Readers are urged to consult with a qualified health professional before embarking on any course of treatment.

Definition

Young adults were considered to have symptoms of depression if they responded "all of the time" or "most of the time" to at least two of the following questions: During the past 30 days, how often did you feel...

  1. So sad that nothing could cheer you up;
  2. Nervous;
  3. Restless or fidgety;
  4. Hopeless;
  5. That everything was an effort;
  6. Worthless

Note: The National Center for Health Statistics, in partnership with Harvard Medical School, conducted a validity study to determine appropriate cut-points for these measures.

Note that this definition is not a definition of clinical depression, and these self-report data should not be taken to indicate levels of clinical depression in the population. Nevertheless, the relative incidence, across subgroups, of clinical depression is consistent with the research discussed above.

Data Sources

Data for 1998-2011: Original analyses by Child Trends of the National Health Interview Survey.

Raw Data Source

National Health Interview Survey

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhis.htm

 

Appendix 1 - Percentage of Young Adults, Ages 18 to 24, Who Reported Two or More Depressive Symptoms1 During the Past 30 Days, 1998-2011

1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Total 4.4 3.6 4.6 4.9 5.2 4.6 5.1 4.8 3.7 4.1 5.3 5.0 4.6 4.3
Gender
Male 2.8 2.6 3.8 3.9 4.2 3.1 4.8 3.6 3.1 3.6 4.9 5.2 3.4 3.2
Female 6.1 4.7 5.4 5.9 6.2 6.1 5.5 6.1 4.3 4.5 5.7 4.9 5.8 5.4
Race/Ethnicity
Non-Hispanic white 3.9 3.3 4.4 4.8 5.0 4.8 5.3 4.7 4.0 5.3 7.4 6.4 5.0 4.4
Non-Hispanic black 6.7 6.2 4.9 5.1 6.4 4.3 5.3 7.7 3.4 3.8 5.0 5.5 4.7 4.3
Hispanic2 4.5 3.3 5.4 5.7 5.4 3.9 3.7 3.8 3.8 4.1 5.3 4.9 4.4 4.4
Poverty Status
At or above poverty 3.4 2.9 4.9 4.7 5.2 4.0 4.6 3.8 3.4 4.2 4.4 4.9 3.6 3.4
Below poverty 8.0 4.4 6.7 5.9 6.5 6.7 7.9 6.6 4.3 5.4 7.5 6.2 7.7 7.0
Education
Some high school or less 6.4 5.5 7.4 6.9 8.5 5.5 7.3 7.7 4.6 6.1 9.5 7.2 7.6 7.1
High school graduate/ GED or equivalent recipient 5.1 3.9 5.1 5.8 6.6 4.6 6.6 5.4 4.4 6.3 5.7 7.3 4.6 5.1
Some college, no degree/AA degree 3.1 2.6 3.3 3.9 2.9 4.2 3.6 3.9 2.9 2.6 4.0 3.2 4.1 3.3
Bachelor's degree or higher 2.7 1.9 2.1 2.1 3.5 3.8 2.8 0.8 2.7 0.9 1.9 2.5 2.0 2.4
(ages 18-24) 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Living situation
Living with parents 3.4 3.2 3.9 3.8 5.0 3.9 4.4 4.6 2.7 4.1 5.2 4.3 3.3 4.0
Living without parents 5.4 4.1 5.3 5.7 5.3 5.3 5.7 5.0 4.6 4.0 5.3 5.8 5.9 4.7
Marital status
Married 4.8 3.4 5.2 5.7 5.0 3.8 3.0 6.1 4.0 3.8 5.9 3.8 6.2 3.4
Never married, widowed, divorced, or separated 4.0 3.7 4.6 4.4 4.8 4.2 5.1 4.4 3.3 3.8 5.5 5.1 4.0 4.2
Cohabiting 6.9 3.8 4.0 6.9 8.2 9.4 8.2 6.1 6.2 6.3 3.2 5.8 6.7 6.0
Presence of own children in household
Have own children - - - - - - 7.0 9.1 4.7 4.8 6.0 4.4 8.0 6.5
No own children - - - - - - 5.1 3.9 3.1 4.3 5.0 5.2 4.0 3.9
Work status
Working 3.9 3.1 3.9 3.8 4.7 3.7 4.5 4.2 2.9 2.9 3.9 4.8 3.9 2.6
Not working 5.5 4.7 6.2 7.3 5.9 6.3 6.2 6.2 5.2 6.2 7.9 5.4 5.6 6.5
Health insurance coverage
Private health insurance 2.6 2.8 3.4 3.3 3.0 3.4 4.0 2.8 3.5 2.8 2.8 3.0 2.6 3.1
Public health insurance 12.7 6.8 8.0 11.1 13.1 6.7 7.7 10.2 5.1 4.9 8.6 7.2 6.9 6.8
No health insurance 5.4 4.7 6.1 5.9 6.2 6.3 6.2 5.7 3.4 6.3 7.7 7.2 6.8 5.1
(ages 18-24) 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Welfare/TANF
At least one family member received income from welfare/TANF 12.9 7.6 10.3 13.9 16.4 10.2 8.0 14.7 9.7 5.6 19.5 16.7 12.0 12.5
No one in family received income from welfare/TANF 3.9 3.4 4.4 4.6 4.8 4.4 5.0 4.5 3.5 4.0 4.8 4.6 4.3 4.0
Food Stamps/SNAP
At least one family member authorized to receive food stamps/SNAP 10.7 7.3 7.9 8.0 11.3 6.9 8.7 14.1 7.2 9.3 11.2 10.1 8.5 7.4
No one in family authorized to receive food stamps/SNAP 3.8 3.3 4.4 4.6 4.6 4.4 4.7 3.6 3.3 3.5 4.5 4.3 3.8 3.5
Region
Northeast 5.2 2.1 2.5 6.5 2.9 5.5 6.3 4.6 4.7 3.5 3.4 3.0 5.8 5.0
Midwest 4.2 4.2 4.8 4.2 6.3 4.4 4.6 4.9 4.6 3.8 4.6 5.8 3.7 2.1
South 4.2 4.1 5.0 4.3 5.8 3.8 5.1 5.6 2.9 4.7 7.3 5.8 4.7 3.9
West 4.5 3.3 5.5 5.4 4.6 5.3 4.9 3.6 3.2 3.7 4.1 4.4 4.4 5.8
1Depressive symptoms include the following: felt sad, hopeless, worthless, restless, or that everything was an effort all of the time or most of the time during the past 30 days.2Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.

Source: Original analysis by Child Trends of National Health Interview Survey data 1998-2011.

Appendix 2 - Percentage of Young Adults, Ages 25 to 29, Who Reported Two or More Depressive Symptoms1 During the Past 30 Days, 1998-2011

1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Total 4.6 4.0 3.9 4.7 3.0 4.5 4.0 4.0 4.7 4.5 3.9 5.9 6.3 4.8
Gender
Male 3.7 3.1 4.5 3.1 2.0 3.6 2.0 3.3 2.9 3.3 3.0 5.8 7.0 5.2
Female 5.4 4.8 3.4 6.3 4.0 5.3 5.8 4.6 6.5 5.6 4.8 6.0 5.5 4.4
Race/Ethnicity
Non-Hispanic white 4.0 4.0 4.4 4.5 2.5 4.7 3.8 4.1 4.5 4.4 4.1 9.1 8.1 4.6
Non-Hispanic black 7.5 6.1 3.6 7.6 5.5 4.0 5.4 6.3 6.6 4.2 5.2 4.6 6.2 4.3
Hispanic2 5.0 2.6 3.2 3.7 2.6 4.1 4.2 2.8 4.1 5.0 3.9 6.0 6.0 5.1
Poverty Status
At or above poverty 3.9 3.4 3.8 4.4 2.5 3.6 3.5 3.2 3.7 3.6 2.8 4.9 5.2 4.2
Below poverty 9.4 10.4 8.8 9.7 5.3 9.1 9.3 10.4 10.6 10.6 13.0 11.5 11.9 9.3
Education
Some high school or less 9.6 6.1 4.7 8.0 4.0 6.5 6.5 8.4 7.3 9.0 6.5 9.5 7.8 9.3
High school graduate/ GED or equivalent recipient 5.0 6.0 5.6 3.9 5.1 4.9 5.0 6.0 5.2 5.1 5.5 9.8 9.0 6.5
Some college, no degree/AA degree 4.5 2.8 4.4 5.7 3.0 5.1 4.0 3.1 5.1 4.3 4.2 5.1 7.6 5.5
Bachelor's degree or higher 1.9 2.6 1.7 2.9 0.8 2.2 1.8 0.7 2.7 2.1 1.4 2.6 2.5 1.3
(ages 25-29) 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Living situation
Living with parents 3.7 6.9 2.7 5.7 3.8 7.1 3.8 4.0 8.4 5.5 4.1 8.1 7.8 6.4
Living without parents 4.7 3.5 4.2 4.6 2.8 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.1 4.3 3.9 5.4 5.9 4.4
Marital status
Married 3.6 2.7 3.6 4.0 2.8 3.9 3.4 2.7 3.2 5.0 3.0 3.4 4.7 3.7
Never married, widowed, divorced, or separated 6.1 6.1 4.7 6.3 3.0 5.2 4.1 6.2 6.0 5.1 4.4 7.8 7.2 5.3
Cohabiting 4.5 2.8 3.0 3.1 3.6 4.5 5.7 1.8 6.0 1.5 5.4 7.2 7.7 6.4
Presence of own children in household
Have own children - - - - - - 5.2 5.2 5.1 7.1 5.0 6.6 5.6 5.7
No own children - - - - - - 3.6 3.9 5.2 4.1 3.8 5.5 6.7 4.2
Work status
Working 3.6 3.4 3.3 3.7 2.3 3.8 3.1 3.2 3.4 2.9 2.5 3.5 4.2 2.8
Not working 8.9 6.2 6.5 9.3 5.4 7.0 7.3 7.0 9.8 11.5 9.2 12.9 12.0 10.9
Health insurance coverage
Private health insurance 2.5 2.6 2.9 3.4 1.8 2.9 2.6 1.7 2.9 2.6 2.0 2.7 4.8 2.1
Public health insurance 13.2 9.6 12.4 13.1 8.7 12.3 9.0 10.9 8.2 12.2 14.5 17.2 10.9 9.4
No health insurance 8.0 6.0 4.3 6.1 4.5 5.0 5.4 6.4 7.2 5.3 3.9 6.7 8.5 8.4
(ages 25-29) 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Welfare/TANF
At least one family member received income from welfare/TANF 11.3 13.1 10.0 7.6 11.5 21.0 13.0 17.6 9.1 10.6 20.7 22.6 21.4 14.6
No one in family received income from welfare/TANF 4.2 3.5 3.7 4.7 2.7 4.1 3.8 3.6 4.6 4.3 3.3 5.5 5.9 4.5
Food Stamps/SNAP
At least one family member authorized to receive food stamps/SNAP 13.4 10.8 10.9 13.2 9.1 13.6 11.7 14.2 14.8 13.2 13.6 13.1 15.4 12.4
No one in family authorized to receive food stamps/SNAP 3.7 3.3 3.4 4.1 2.5 3.5 3.2 2.9 3.3 3.2 2.4 4.8 4.5 2.9
Region
Northeast 4.4 3.1 3.3 5.0 2.2 4.6 2.6 3.0 7.9 3.6 5.6 7.0 7.0 3.1
Midwest 3.3 4.5 3.5 4.6 3.4 5.6 3.6 3.8 4.4 4.5 4.0 5.8 5.8 5.3
South 5.2 3.9 4.2 4.5 3.1 3.6 4.8 4.8 4.2 5.5 3.1 7.4 6.4 5.5
West 5.4 4.1 4.7 5.1 2.8 4.7 3.9 3.4 3.6 3.4 4.1 3.0 6.0 4.5
1Depressive symptoms include the following: felt sad, hopeless, worthless, restless, or that everything was an effort all of the time or most of the time during the past 30 days.2Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race.

Source: Original analysis by Child Trends of National Health Interview Survey data 1998-2011.

 

Endnotes


[1]Turner, R. J. & Avison, W. R. (2003). Status variations in stress exposure among young adults: Implications for the interpretation of prior research. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 44, 488-505.

[2]Graber, J. A. (2004). Internalizing problems during adolescence. In R. M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of Adolescent Psychology (Second ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

[3]Hankin, B., Abramson, L., Moffitt, T., Silva, P., McGee, R., & Angell, K. (1998). Development of depression from preadolescence to young adulthood: Emerging gender differences in a 10-year longitudinal study. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107(1) 128-140.

[4]Wiesner, M., Windle, M., & Freeman, A.(2005).Work stress, substance use, and depression among young adult workers: An examination of main and moderator effect model. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 10(2) 83-96.

[5]Zimmerman, F. J., Christakis, D.A., & Stoep, A.V. (2004). Tinker, tailor, soldier, patient: Work attributes and depression disparities among young adults.Social Science & Medicine,58(10), 1889-1901.

[6]Ibid.

[7]Horwitz, A. V., McLaughlin, J., & Raskin White, H. (1998).  How the negative and positive aspects of partner relationships affect the mental health of young  married people.  Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 39(2), 124-136.

[8]Moore, K. A., Hair, E. C., Vandivere, S., McPhee, C. B., Thomson, L., and McNamara, M. (2006). Depression among moms: Prevalence, predictors, and outcomes for children. Research Brief, Publication #2006-1. Washington, DC: Child Trends.

[9]Haarasilta, L. M., Marttunen, M. J., and Kaprio, J. (2004). Correlates of depression in a representative nationwide sample of adolescents (15-19 years) and young adults (20-24 years).European Journal of Public Health,14(3), 280-285.

[10]Goodman, E., and Capitman, J. (2000). Depressive symptoms and cigarette smoking among teens. Pediatrics, 106, 748-755.

[11]Turner, H.A. & Butler, M.J. (2003). Direct and indirect effects of childhood adversity on depressive symptoms in young adults.Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32(2), 89-103.

[12]Miller, D. K., Constance, H. L., & Brennan, P. A. (2007). Health outcomes related to early adolescent depression. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(3), 256-262.

[13]Aalto-Setälä, T., Marttunen, M., Tuulio-Henriksson, A., Poikolainen, K., & Lönnqvist, J. (2003).Depressive symptoms in adolescence as predictors of early adulthood depressive disorders and maladjustment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 1235-1237.

[14]Van Voorhees, B. W., Fogel, J., Houston, T.K., Cooper, L. A., Wang, N., & Ford, D. E. (2005). Beliefs and attitudes associated with the intention to not accept the diagnosis of depression among young adults. Annals of Family Medicine, 3, 38-46.

[15]Greener, M. J. & Guest, J. F. (2005). Do antidepressants reduce the burden imposed by depression on employers?CNS Drugs,19(3), 253-264.

[16]Jones, D. J., Forehand, R., & Beach, S. R. H. (2000). Maternal and paternal parenting during adolescence: Forecasting early adult psychosocial adjustment.Adolescence,35(139), 513-530.

 

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2012). Young adult depression. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=young-adult-depression

 

Last updated: September 2012