Young Adult Depression

Publication Date:

Dec 28, 2018

Key facts about young adult depression

  • In 2017, 7.3 and 5.5 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 29, respectively, reported experiencing two or more symptoms of depression in the past 30 days; for both age groups, this was an increase from 1998, when prevalence was 4.4 and 4.6 percent, respectively.
  • Among young adults ages 18 to 24 living with a family member receiving SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps), 13 percent reported symptoms of depression in 2017, compared with 6 percent among those with no family members receiving SNAP benefits.
  • In 2017, 3 percent of young adults ages 25 to 29 with at least a bachelor’s degree reported symptoms of depression, compared with 9 percent with only a high school diploma.
  • In 2017, 25- to 29-year-olds who were not employed were more than twice as likely as their working peers to report symptoms of depression (10 and 4 percent, respectively).

Trends in young adult depression

The share of young adults reporting symptoms of depression in the past 30 days (felt sad, hopeless, worthless, or restless, or that everything was an effort all of the time or most of the time) has increased from 1998 to 2017, with much of the rise occurring in the last three years. In 1998, 4 and 5 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 25- to 29-year-olds, respectively, reported two or more symptoms of depression; in 2017, these proportions grew to 7 and 6 percent for 18- to 24-year-olds and 25- to 29-year-olds, respectively (appendices 1 and 2).[1]

Differences by age

Overall, young adults ages 18 to 24 report two or more symptoms of depression in the past 30 days at similar rates to young adults ages 25 to 29—at 7 and 6 percent, respectively (appendices 1 and 2).

Differences by gender

In 2017, females were more likely than males to report two or more symptoms of depression. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 9 percent of females and 6 percent of males reported depression symptoms; among 25- to 29-year-olds, 7 percent of females and 4 percent of males reported the same (appendices 1 and 2).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin*

In 2017, among young adults ages 18 to 24, a higher proportion of non-Hispanic black youth reported two or more depression symptoms (10 percent) than their non-Hispanic white or Hispanic peers (each at 7 percent).

*Hispanic young adults can be of any race.

Differences by education level

Young adults with higher levels of education are less likely than those with less education to report two or more depression symptoms. In 2017, 3 percent of young adults 25 to 29 with at least a bachelor’s degree reported symptoms of depression, compared with 6 percent who had a high school diploma, some college experience, or an associate’s degree. Among those with a high school diploma only, the figure was 9 percent (Appendix 2).

Differences by poverty status and receipt of SNAP benefits

Young adults living in families with incomes below the federal poverty line (FPL), or whose families receive SNAP benefits (food stamps), are more likely than their more affluent peers to report two or more depression symptoms. Among young adults ages 18 to 24 in 2017, 10 percent of those living in households below the FPL reported two or more symptoms, compared with 6 percent of those living in households with higher incomes. Among those with a family member receiving SNAP benefits, 13 percent reported symptoms, compared with 6 percent among those with no family members receiving SNAP benefits (Appendix 1). Among older young adults, similar disparities exist but to a smaller degree: 8 percent of adults ages 25 to 29 living in households below the FPL report symptoms of depression, compared with 5 percent of those living in households with higher incomes. In this age group, 9 percent of those in families receiving SNAP benefits, and 5 percent in families not receiving benefits, reported symptoms of depression (Appendix 2).

Differences by employment status

Older young adults (ages 25 to 29) who are working are less likely than their unemployed peers to report two or more depression symptoms. In 2017, 25- to 29-year-olds who were not employed were more than twice as likely as their working peers to report such symptoms (10 and 4 percent, respectively) (Appendix 2). For 18- to 24-year-olds, the difference between non-working young adults and their working peers was smaller, at 8 and 7 percent, respectively (Appendix 1).

Differences by living situation

In 2017, 8 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds living apart from their parents reported two or more depression symptoms, compared with 7 percent of those living with their parents. However, among young adults ages 25 to 29, a slightly higher percentage of those living with parents reported depression symptoms than those living apart from their parents (6 and 5 percent, respectively).

Young adults ages 25 to 29 who were married were less likely to report depression symptoms than those never married, widowed, divorced, or separated (3 and 7 percent, respectively) (appendices 1 and 2).

State and local estimates

20152016 state-level estimates of young adults, ages 18 to 25, who have had a major depressive episode in the past year are available from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health at https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUHsaePercents2016/NSDUHsaePercents2016.pdf (Table 30).

Background

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. The results of this study are available at http://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/ncs/k6_scales.php.

Note that this is not a definition of clinical depression, and that 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.

In 2013, while survey questions remained the same, their placement within the survey was moved. This may have affected responses.

Endnotes

[1] In 2013, the ordering of the survey items was changed, potentially affecting comparability of estimates over time.

Suggested citation

Child Trends Databank. (2018). Young adult depression. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=young-adult-depression