U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has issued an advisory calling for action in response to a mental health crisis among youth that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The introduction to the 53-page advisory, titled "Protecting Youth Mental Health," states that during the pandemic, children, adolescents, and young adults have faced unprecedented challenges.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed their world, including how they attend school, interact with friends, and receive health care. They missed first days of school, months or even years of in-person schooling, graduation ceremonies, sports competitions, playdates, and time with relatives.
"They and their family may have lost access to mental health care, social services, income, food, or housing. They may have had COVID-19 themselves, suffered from long COVID symptoms, or lost a loved one to the disease — it’s estimated that as of June 2021, more than 140,000 children in the US had lost a parent or grandparent caregiver to COVID."
Social isolation brought on by the pandemic may have increased levels of anxiety and depression in young people. The advisory cites research indicating a quarter of youth globally are experiencing clinically elevated depressive symptoms, while 20% are experiencing clinically elevated symptoms of anxiety, usnews.com reported.
Some research has linked the excessive use of social media during the pandemic to more mental health problems.
Murthy’s advisory cites early estimates that suggest more than 6,600 deaths by suicide occurred among the 10-24 age group in 2020, U.S. News reported.
"Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real, and they are widespread. But most importantly, they are treatable, and often preventable," the advisory goes on to say.
Among the advisory’s recommendations to improve youth mental health are calls to expand access to behavioral and mental health care services for children, including through telehealth and expanding the school-based mental health workforce.
Mental Health America President and CEO Schroeder Stribling praised Murthy for raising awareness about the issue, calling for increased funding for prevention and early intervention strategies.
"At the same time, the administration and Congress must also work to address the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health, including child poverty, early childhood education, access to healthy food, affordable health care, stable housing, and safe neighborhoods," Stribling said. "We must not wait to take action. Our youth need help now."
A surgeon general’s advisory is a "public statement that calls the American people’s attention to an urgent public health issue and provides recommendations for how it should be addressed. Advisories are reserved for significant public health challenges that need the nation’s immediate awareness and action," according to the advisory's introduction.
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