U.S. Surgeon General issues public health advisory warning of a youth mental health crisis

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FILE – In this Sept. 9, 2020, file photo, students wear protective masks as they arrive for classes at the Immaculate Conception School while observing COVID-19 prevention protocols in The Bronx borough of New York. Schools and camps across the county are making plans to help kids catch up academically this summer after a year or more of remote learning for many of them. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The U.S. Surgeon General has issued a rare public health advisory warning of a youth mental health crisis.

Since the pandemic began, anxiety is higher and so is depression. Now the concern is on how COVID-19 is affecting our kids’ mental health.

The nation’s top doctor said more than 140,000 children in the country have lost a parent or grandparent to the virus.

The pandemic has changed our world. For kids, they missed attending in-person school, graduation, sports, and time with family.

“It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said. “That’s why I am issuing this Surgeon General’s Advisory. 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 Surgeon General’s 53-page report shows symptoms of anxiety and depression have doubled. Also, suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls and 4% higher for adolescent boys compared to the same time period in early 2019.

“It seems like there’s a correlation with increased social media use and problems especially in girls that’s clearly an issue in our society that we need to figure out a way to make those spaces a little healthier and more accepting,” said Dr. Kristopher Kaliebe, who is a psychiatrist and an associate professor at USF.

Kaliebe isn’t surprised with the advisory. He said last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry had declared a crisis and childhood mental health.

“Whenever you have a kid that comes in for a mental health care you should be looking to see what’s going on in the family to see if you have a sick or troubled or struggling family in someway,” he said.

Kaliebe said what we need now is to make our family systems healthier.

“But there is much more to be done, and each of us has a role to play. Supporting the mental health of children and youth will require a whole-of-society effort.”

Dr. Murthy said it’ll take a societal effort to help children get access to mental health care, address the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health. The recommendations are:

  • Recognize that mental health is an essential part of overall health.
  • Empower youth and their families to recognize, manage, and learn from difficult emotions.
  • Ensure that every child has access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care.
  • Support the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings.
  • Address the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health for young people, families, and caregivers.
  • Increase timely data collection and research to identify and respond to youth mental health needs more rapidly

The Surgeon General said social media plays a role in all of this. Now, Instagram said it’s working for a stricter approach to what the app recommends to teens AND its also launching new tools for parents to be more involved with their kids’ uses on the app.

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