29. January 2020
It is not only older people who suffer from depression. Young adults are also increasingly affected by depression. Figures show that in Germany one in ten young people aged 15-29 years has depressive symptoms (Hapke et al., 2019; Busch et al., 2013). If all other mental illnesses are included, there was a 38% increase in diagnoses from 2005-2016 (Barmer Physicians Report, 2018).
Graduation from school, moving into your first own four walls, starting university or training, new city, new friends. At the age of 20 – 30 most people start their own, self-determined life. Although this is very exciting, it can also lead to excessive demands and a certain lack of stability. In such a phase of upheaval, the psyche is more vulnerable. The risk of developing depression increases.
Excursus: Do I have a depression? A depression is manifested by the following main symptoms: Dejection, the loss of any joy and interests, concentration problems, sleep disturbances and listlessness. If these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, then they are a warning sign of depression and must be taken seriously. You can read more about the symptoms of depression here.
Stressful life circumstances and a lot of change favor the risk of developing depression. Young people have to handle many demands in different areas. These include:
Family and friends
As independence increases, the “family safety net,” if it existed in childhood and adolescence, becomes distant. Personal responsibility increases. Not every young person is up to it and brings the necessary resources, such as planning ability, organization, household management, etc., with him. Contact with old friends also becomes more difficult, e.g. due to a move. Building a stable social network is one of the many challenges in the lives of young people and also a risk factor for depression.
What do I want to become? How do I want to earn money? Can I find a secure job that also fulfills me? There is a multitude of possibilities and at the same time there is pressure to find exactly one’s “thing” and to realize oneself. Work is a central, identity-forming part of life and so the pressure to find your dream job as quickly as possible is increasing. Due to constant competition, there is more and more pressure to perform in training and studies. Those who want to survive on the job market in times of high fluctuation, temporary contracts and a crisis-ridden economy had better belong to the elite and distinguish themselves through performance.
Young people are in a phase of personality development. Who am I and who do I want to be? Where is my place in the world? There is a social pressure for self-actualization. “Be the best version of yourself” – that’s the credo. There is a pressure for perfection – which develops not least through unrealistic role models in social media. This high perfectionism is associated with an increased risk of burnout and depression (Spitzer, 2016).
Digitization and social media
We are exposed to high digital stress at work and in everyday life. Constant accessibility is taken for granted, especially among young people. In addition, the “perfect” life is conveyed via social media, which encourages constant comparison with others. Not least, this gives rise to unrealistic body and lifestyle ideals. The resulting dissatisfaction with oneself and one’s own perceived inadequacy can lead to depressive moods.
Self-care and health
As much as young people learn and experience, one skill is lost on many: relaxing and allowing themselves and their bodies to rest. If rest breaks are missing over a longer period of time, the battery gets emptier and emptier. Burnout and depression can be the consequences. Another risk for depression that should not be underestimated is drug and alcohol abuse, which often begins at a young age.
In the Western world, so-called individualism prevails, meaning that the individual is more important than society. This leads to independence on the one hand. On the other hand, however, it can also lead to a lack of support and loneliness. This tendency toward individualism has been growing for decades. But since we humans are social beings, we can lack cohesion in society.
The concept of mental load has only recently come into existence and means “a full head”. Full with obligations, contact care, career planning, self-optimization, perfection claims, fears, tasks… The mind no longer comes to rest – Constant brooding is the order of the day and increases the risk of depression. Learn more about Mental Load here.
Depression has many causes
There are several reasons why rates of illness are rising among young adults. However, caution is always advised against jumping to conclusions: Not all of these possible explanations have been sufficiently scientifically studied to say whether and how much they contribute to the increased rates of depression.
Importantly, general risk factors for depression may be added. For example, a genetic risk for depression within the family, chronic physical illness, and certain personality traits mentioned. Also, other mental disorders such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorders increase the risk of developing depression in addition.
Depression and mental illness still create an uneasy feeling in us and we are not completely unbiased on the subject. On the positive side, the topic of depression is being discussed more and more in the social media and young people in particular are being made aware of the issue.
In this way, mental illnesses such as depression lose their stigma. People seek help more quickly because they know, for example through the shared experience of influencers, that depression is increasingly treatable. Mental illness is increasingly gaining the same acceptance as physical illness.
Perhaps a change of heart is taking place – away from self-optimization, perfection and pressure to perform. Buzzwords like body positivity, acceptance, (self)-worth, humanity and mindfulness are coming across more and more frequently. Hopefully, it will not remain just a trend! Young people may need a change in how they treat themselves and their resources to be better protected against depression and other mental illnesses.