The politics of depression: Diverging trends in internalizing symptoms among US adolescents by political beliefs

By Catherine Gimbrone, Lisa M. Bates, Seth J. Prins, Katherine M. Keyes in Class conflict and public health

January 2, 2022


January 2, 2022


12:00 AM


Adolescent internalizing symptoms (e.g. depressive affect) have increased over the past decade in the US, particularly among girls. The reasons for these increases are unclear. We hypothesize that increasing exposure to politicized events has contributed to these trends in adolescent internalizing symptoms, and that effects may be differential by political beliefs and sociodemographic characteristics. We analyzed nationally-representative data from 2005 to 2018 Monitoring the Future annual cross-sectional samples of 12th-grade students (N ​= ​86,138). We examined self-reported political beliefs, sex, and parental education as predictors of four internalizing symptom scales over time, including depressive affect. From 2005 to 2018, 19.8% of students identified as liberal and 18.1% identified as conservative, with little change over time. Depressive affect (DA) scores increased for all adolescents after 2010, but increases were most pronounced for female liberal adolescents (b for interaction ​= ​0.17, 95% CI: 0.01, 0.32), and scores were highest overall for female liberal adolescents with low parental education (Mean DA 2010: 2.02, SD 0.81/2018: 2.75, SD 0.92). Findings were consistent across multiple internalizing symptoms outcomes. Trends in adolescent internalizing symptoms diverged by political beliefs, sex, and parental education over time, with female liberal adolescents experiencing the largest increases in depressive symptoms, especially in the context of demographic risk factors including parental education. These findings indicate a growing mental health disparity between adolescents who identify with certain political beliefs. It is therefore possible that the ideological lenses through which adolescents view the political climate differentially affect their mental wellbeing.

Posted on:
January 2, 2022
2 minute read, 247 words
Class conflict and public health
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