Why Is Depression in Young Adults Hitting Record Highs?

Major depression is a mental health disorder categorized by persistent sad or depressed mood and the loss of interest in regular activities, creating a significant impact in daily life.  If depression is severe or left untreated it can lead to many negative impacts on your life as well as your health.  The recent pandemic has contributed to a spike in stress levels and mental illness, most notably anxiety and depression.  Job loss, social isolation, and the stress of the unknown are all factors in which the pandemic has played a role in mental health.  However, unfortunately, depression has increasingly become a prevalent health issue even before the pandemic, and the age group that has been most impacted is actually young adults.  The percentage of adults who have experienced the highest number of symptoms of depression is those who fall in the age range of 18 to 29, with a whopping 21 percent reporting having experienced symptoms of depression.  So, what can we do about this?  Why is depression so high in young adults who are often perceived to be at the “best stage” in their lives?  In this article, we will explore what depression is, the causes, symptoms, and contributors to depression, why depression is so high in young adults, and what we can do about it.        

What is Depression?

In order to be classified as depression, symptoms of depression must persist consistently for a period of 2 weeks or longer.  It is important that depression is not confused with situational sadness.  Feelings of sadness after a painful event, such as a breakup, are normal and do not always indicate depression.  Depression is a long-term mental illness that negatively impacts social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning in your life.  When we are experiencing feelings of sadness, it may feel overwhelming or all-encompassing at times, but you should also be able to have moments of happiness and comfort during a period of sadness.  Sadness is a feeling while depression is an illness, the symptoms and feelings you experience from depression will likely begin to affect many aspects of your life, much more than a period of sadness will.  For young adults, this can be problematic as their career life, relationships, and independence is just beginning.  It is important to recognize the signs and get treatment for depression if you suspect yourself or a loved one may be struggling with depression.  Common risk factors and symptoms for depression in young adults include:


  • Genetics – A family history of depression increases your risk for developing depression. 
  • Chemical or hormonal imbalances – Imbalance in brain chemicals or hormones may cause mood disorders such as depression.
  • Nutrition – Poor diet and lack of proper nutrients can lead to fatigue, poor brain health, and depression.
  • Gender – Women are more likely to suffer from depression than men. 
  • Traumatic events – The death of a loved one, abuse, conflict, major life events and more are all examples of potentially traumatic events that can increase your risk for developing depression.  


  • Frequent or constant feelings of sadness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of motivation or desire to participate in previously enjoyable activities
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Low-self esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions  

Leading causes and contributors to depression in young adults

Young adults report experiencing higher rates of depression than any other age group.  In part, this may be due to the increasingly widespread awareness of mental health disorders and recognizing their need for proper treatment.  However, there are many other external factors in the lives of young adults which may contribute to the high rates of depression for this age group.  These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Academic and career success – The stress and pressure placed on school, college, and future career plans for young adults is enormous.  Many people entering adulthood are just beginning to discover themselves and look at future career paths, much less know exactly where they’re going.  The pressure and expectations to figure out your career and succeed can be very overwhelming and challenging for many young adults.  
  • Exposure to challenges – Adulthood comes with many new and different challenges than adolescence.  Financial stresses, moving cities, new jobs, and relationship changes are all quite common in young adulthood and can contribute to mental health struggles.      
  • Social stressors – Growing into adulthood may change the way your social life looks as compared to adolescence. This can be a challenging transition and for many, it may be difficult to maintain and find new relationships after high school or college. 
  • Break-ups and relationship difficulties:  As we grow older our relationships tend to change and shift.  Sometimes this can include break-ups with a partner, family difficulties, or changing friendships.  This can be a challenging transition for many and can lead to a period of depression.
  • Social media – Adolescents and young adults engage in social media more than any other age group.  While there are some positives when it comes to social media usage, there are many harms of social media that tend to outweigh the benefits.  This often includes an unhealthy comparison to others, unrealistic views of others’ lives, inadequacy over appearance or life, feelings of isolation, cyberbullying, self-absorption, and feelings of anxiety or depression.  

Impacts of depression on health

Although depression is categorized as a mental health condition, it has impacts on your physical health as well.  If left untreated, chronic depression can cause:

  • Weakened immunity
  • Fatigue or difficulty sleeping
  • Digestive issues
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammation
  • Worsening of chronic conditions

Ways to prevent and improve depression in young adults 

With all of the negative impacts we know depression can have on our lives and wellbeing, it is important that we find solutions to this continually growing health problem and ways to prevent it.  It is important to know that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach for treating mental health, but there have been many proven and effective methods for mental healthcare that can help improve the lives of many.

Ways to prevent or improve depression:

  • Exercise regularly.  Regular exercise helps to release natural endorphins into our bodies which make us feel good and are often in a shortage when we are experiencing depression.  Mild to moderate exercise 30 minutes a day helps to boost endorphin levels and lower stress levels.
  • Build social connections.  Spending time with family, friends and loved ones is essential to our mental health.  Making new friends and connecting with people helps to improve our social and mental wellbeing.
  • Eat a proper diet.  Eating a poor diet contributes to inflammation in the body and brain which can lead to chronic physical and mental illness.  Eating a healthy diet rich in nutrients and anti-inflammatory foods helps to improve our mental wellbeing.  
  • Minimize stress levels.  Cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone, can play a major role in our physical and mental health.  Learn to find ways to set boundaries and minimize excess stressors in your life.
  • Find hobbies and healthy coping mechanisms.  Finding hobbies and healthy ways to cope with anxiety and depression is a great way to prevent depression from developing or worsening.  Meditation, cooking, gardening, or reading are all great examples of healthy coping mechanisms and hobbies.
  • Residential treatment or therapy.  Residential treatment programs or regular therapy sessions have shown great results in terms of mental health outcomes. Residential treatments, such as therapeutic gap programs and mental health retreats, have been shown to have tremendous and transformative effects on the mental health of young adults.

Momentum is Here to Help

At Momentum Young Adult Therapy and Gap Program, we work to help young adults ages 18 to 25 who have struggled with emotional or behavioral issues during their transition into adulthood.  We strive to provide our students the skills necessary to be successful in school, work, personal relationships, and other areas of life.  

For more information on how we treat depression in young adults at Momentum, please call (877) 296-8711.

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