Science and Tech


U.S. Surgeon General: Mental Health Crisis Among American Youth

An advisory from the surgeon general suggests mental health should be acknowledged as an essential part of overall health.
Posted at 8:36 PM, Dec 07, 2021

Today's generation of young people face challenges that are "unprecedented and uniquely hard to navigate."

Those words come from the U.S. surgeon general's latest advisory stating the mental health of America's youth is a crisis, in need of swift response. 

"Kids are suffering and how are we best able to respond to some of their needs."

In early 2021, emergency department visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls and 4% higher for adolescent boys compared to the same time period in early 2019. 

And about 140,000 children and adolescents in the U.S. lost a parent or caregiver during the first 15 months of the pandemic.  

"When you look at that, the death rates are twice as high for individuals who are Black or Latino and you can definitely see there's a disproportionate impact," American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry President Dr. Warren Ng said.

Sixty-five percent of these orphans are part of minority communities. 

"There's a crisis in children's mental health, but the disparities around the impact along racial, ethnic, as well as socioeconomic status is really alarming," Ng said.

The alarming statistics are now building on existing mental health challenges among young people. 

In the decade before the pandemic, up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. faced a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder. And suicide rates among youth ages 10-24 in the U.S. increased by 57%.  

This led Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to say: "It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis [COVID-19] only to allow another to grow in its place."

The advisory lists recommendations for children, families, and institutions such as schools and media. The first one stating mental health should be acknowledged as an essential part of overall health — laying groundwork for a cross-industry approach for those most vulnerable.

"I think it's time that we take the blame game out of the situation and just own the fact that COVID-19 does not discriminate, neither does mental health," Murthy said.