Surgeon General urges action on youth mental health crisis
January 10, 2022
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has issued an advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health.
The Dec. 7 advisory makes clear the need for action. Symptoms of mental health challenges have dramatically increased in the last decade — high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased 40 percent between 2009 and 2019 while suicide rates among youth ages 10-24 in the U.S. increased by 57 percent between 2007 and 2018.
These mental health challenges predated the COVID-19 pandemic, which heavily impacted young people who were vulnerable to begin with, such as youth with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ youth and low-income youth, according to the advisory. Because of myriad biological and environmental factors that shape mental health, the report contends that systemic change to the institutions that surround young people is needed.
“This isn’t an issue we can fix overnight or with a single prescription. Ensuring healthy children and families will take an all-of-society effort, including policy, institutional, and individual changes in how we view and prioritize mental health,” Murthy writes.
Recommended steps schools can take include creating positive, safe, and affirming school environments; expanding SEL programs; increasing the school-based mental health workforce; and better supporting the mental health of all school personnel. The report also recommends school staff learn to recognize the signs of mental health problems and take action when appropriate.
“Educators are often the first to notice if a student is struggling or behaving differently than usual (for example, withdrawing from normal activities or acting out),” the report reads. “And educators are well-positioned to connect students to school counselors, nurses, or administrators who can further support students, including by providing or connecting students with services.”
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