U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a new Surgeon General’s Advisory, calling for urgent and coordinated response to the nation’s youth mental health crisis.
The advisory follows a recent declaration by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association that the pandemic-related decline in child and adolescent mental health has become a national emergency.
The advisory provides recommendations that individuals, families, community organizations, technology companies, governments, and others can take to improve the mental health crisis, including:
- Recognizing that mental health is an essential part of overall health.
- Empowering youth and their families to recognize, manage, and learn from difficult emotions.
- Ensuring that every child has access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care.
- Supporting the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings. And expanding and supporting the early childhood and education workforce.
- Addressing the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health for young people, families, and caregivers.
- Increasing timely data collection and research to identify and respond to youth mental health needs more rapidly. This includes more research on the relationship between technology and youth mental health, and technology companies should be more transparent with data and algorithmic processes to enable this research.
The pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues that already existed in children and adolescents, the Surgeon General explained in an interview with NPR. Before the pandemic, one in three high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness – a 40% increase from 2009 to 2019. In that same timeframe, suicide rates went up 57% among youth ages 10 to 24. By disrupting experiences at home, school, and in the community, the pandemic has only served to worsen these issues for groups that were already the most vulnerable.
Schools especially are feeling the impact of the pandemic on students’ wellbeing and have begun to try to address the problem, including by using money from pandemic relief funds to bolster mental health support in schools.
The American Rescue Plan Act and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, as well as other 2020 pandemic relief funds for schools amount to more than $190 billion in education and health grants available over the next four years, according to Pew Charitable Trusts. Some of that funding can be spent on mental health and gives schools discretion over how the majority of it can be spent, as long as 20% or more is spent on programs addressing learning loss.
Arizona is spending federal relief funds to hire more counselors and social workers in K-12 schools and is among one of eight states to enact statutes that allow K-12 students to miss a certain number of school days for mental health reasons.
Despite available funding, staff shortages and access to resources continue to be a struggle for schools nationwide. According to Pew Trusts, the National Association of School Psychologists recommends one mental health professional for every 500 students. Maine is the only state that currently meets that standard.
The Surgeon General’s advisory asserts it’s more important than ever to prioritize mental health awareness, support, and access to care; the future wellbeing of the country depends on supporting and investing in the next generation.
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