Depression Rates Increase, Especially Among Young Workers

By Kelly Burch 05/31/19

Depression rates among employed Americans rose 18% from 2014-2018.

young worker with depression

Rates of depression have increased greatly over the past four years, with young workers seeing the largest surge, according to a recent study. 

The study, conducted by wellness technology company Happify Health, found that depression rates among employed Americans rose 18% from 2014-2018. Among 18- to 24-year-olds the rate of depression increased 39%. Women in that group saw their depression rates increase 44%. 

Ran Zilca, the chief data scientist at Happify Health, told SHRM that entering the workforce can be a vulnerable time for young people. 

"Young adulthood is a transitional time when we're often just entering the workforce, figuring out who we are and what we want to do with our lives, which can be very challenging and, for some, can cause very negative psychological reactions while not having yet developed the skills to combat those feelings," Zilca said. "While this analysis doesn't tell us if the causes are internal or external to their employment, we know from prior Happify research that younger adults tend to be more stressed and worried about job-related matters than older workers.”

In fact, the oldest workers surveyed (ages 55-64) saw an improvement in their mental health during the time studied.

Acacia Parks, chief scientist at Happify Health, said that young people can sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the options they have available to them. 

“[People] going to college now face so many more options in terms of where to go to school, what to major in and what job to aim for. They have access to so much information via the Internet—a universe where the possibilities are endless—which can be both exciting and overwhelming,” Parks said. 

Some young people also feel daunted by how the workforce is changing, and the uncertainty that brings to their professional and financial lives. 

"Because technology has upped the pace of everything, college students are preparing for jobs that do not yet exist but will by the time they graduate,” Parks said. “Young adults in previous generations may have easily chosen a profession as they finished high school. Nowadays, preparing for a job is like trying to sail to an island that's moving. Being a young adult in 2019 means accepting a greater amount of uncertainty than young adults of previous generations, and intolerance of uncertainty is linked to numerous psychological difficulties.”

Dan Schawbel, author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation, said that no one factor can explain such a dramatic increase in depression. 

"It's never one thing; it's the combination of many things happening at once,” he said, pointing out that student loan debt, social media and financial concerns can all burden young workers, who don’t always have the interpersonal capital to ask for help. 

“If you're lacking relationships, you feel isolated and lonely, which leads to depression,” he said. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.