I’m Worried About the Boys, Too.

Jonathan Haidt

By Jonathan Haidt

Since 2015, I have been trying to solve a mystery: all of a sudden, around 2013, rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm began rising rapidly for American adolescents. Those born in and after 1996—Gen Z—have the worst mental health of any generation for which we have data (going back to the “Greatest Generation,” born 1900 to 1925).

You can see the sudden change in Figure 1, which plots the percentage of adolescents (ages 12–17) who self-report at least one major depressive episode in the past year, as measured by a major national U.S. survey.

What stands out is the trend for girls. It’s like a hockey stick, with a bend that begins going up in 2013. Why that year? That is the year after Facebook bought Instagram, and, with so much publicity, girls of all ages flocked onto the platform. In graph after graph, Jean Twenge, Zach Rausch, and I found sharp increases in poor mental health for girls right around 2013. One major correlational study found that girls who are heavy users of social media are three times more likely to be depressed than non-users, while for boys, there’s no sign of harm for light use, and heavy users are “only” twice as likely to be depressed as non-users.

Read the full The Free Press article.
Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership.