The Teen Mental Illness Epidemic started in 2012

The Teen Mental Illness Epidemic started in 2012. By Zach Rausch and Jon Haidt.

Teen mental health plummeted across the Western world in the early 2010s, particularly for girls and particularly in the most individualistic nations. …


All five Anglosphere countries exhibit the same basic pattern. … Why did this happen in the same way at the same time in five different countries? What could have affected girls around the English-speaking world so strongly and in such a synchronized way? …

It can’t be the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The timing of that event is exactly the opposite of what you’d expect, namely: the epidemic should have started in 2009 and then gotten progressively better after 2012 as the economy improved in the USA and other countries.

In an earlier post, Jean Twenge showed that it can’t be caused by rising academic pressure either.

And it certainly can’t be caused by the most popular theory we hear in the USA: school shootings and other stress-inducing events. Why would school shootings or active shooter drills implemented only in the USA lead to an immediate epidemic across the entire English-speaking world?

At this point, there is only one theory we know of that can explain why the same thing happened to girls in so many countries at the same time: the rapid global movement from flip phones (where you can’t do social media) to smartphones and the phone-based childhood.

The first smartphone with a front-facing camera (the iPhone 4) came out in 2010, just as teens were trading in their flip phones for smartphones in large numbers. (Few teens owned an iPhone in its first few years). Facebook bought Instagram in 2012, which gave the platform a huge boost in publicity and users. So 2012 was the first year that very large numbers of girls in the developed world were spending hours each day posting photos of themselves and scrolling through hundreds of carefully edited photos of other girls.

If you suddenly transform the social lives of girls, putting them onto platforms that prioritize social comparison and performance, platforms where we know that heavy users are three times more likely to be depressed than light users, might that have some impact on the mental health of girls around the world? We think so.

Good one, Mark Zuckerberg.