From the New York Magazine:
...Ever since the 1930s, young people in America have reported feeling increasingly anxious and depressed. And no one knows exactly why.One of the researchers who has done the most work on this subject is Dr. Jean Twenge, a social psychologist at San Diego State University who is the author of Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before. She’s published a handful of articles on this trajectory, and the underlying story, she thinks, is a rather negative one. “I think the research tells us that modern life is not good for mental health,” she said.
What's going on? Perhaps:
She thinks the primary problem is that “modern life doesn’t give us as many opportunities to spend time with people and connect with them, at least in person, compared to, say, 80 years ago or 100 years ago. Families are smaller, the divorce rate is higher, people get married much later in life.” Smaller families and later marriage, of course, in part reflect societal advancement most of us would view as positive — people, particularly women, have a lot more autonomy over relationships and reproduction. Twenge wanted to be clear that she is for all these different types of societal progress, and that the period when people reported fewer depression and anxiety symptoms was also one where there was widespread racial and gender-based discrimination. She just also thinks we should be “clear-eyed” about the fact that the the “potential tradeoff for our equality and freedom is more anxiety and depression because we’re more isolated.”In other words, it may simply be the case that many people who lived in less equal, more “traditional” times were forced into close companionship with a lot of other people, and that this shielded them from certain psychological problems, whatever else was going on in their lives. [...]For whatever reason, the shift away from this sort of life has also brought with it a shift in values, and Twenge thinks that this, too, can account for the increase in anxiety and depression. “There’s clear evidence that the focus on money, fame, and image has gone up,” she said, referring to various surveys that have been conducted over the decades in which young people are asked about their goals and values, “and there’s also clear evidence that people who focus on money, fame, and image are more likely to be depressed and anxious.”