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Pandemic exposed mental health crisis in youth, says U.S. Surgeon General

U.S. Surgeon General warns of mental health decline in youth
Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 9:20 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - The U.S. Surgeon General has issued a warning about youth mental health on Tuesday.

According to the 53-page report, children, adolescents, and young adults have dealt with more challenges and trauma, and disruptions to their daily lives due to the pandemic. It also estimates that more than 140,000 children in the U.S. have lost a parent or grandparent caregiver to COVID-19 as of June 2021.

Eric Litwiller, with the Mental Health Association, says his agency is seeing the impact with more children and youth dealing with depression, anxiety and even some contemplating suicide. The Surgeon General’s report states there were more than 6,600 deaths by suicide among the 10-24 age group just last year.

Pandemic aside, Litwiller attributes much of the mental health concern that youth deal with to social media.

“They look at social media as this idealized version of someone’s world, without realizing this is a highlight reel,” Litwiller explains.

The advisory report warns of the devastating consequences to young people’s mental health if the issue continues to go unaddressed. Litwiller says kids often don’t have coping skills developed yet to handle something they might be going through and says it has to be talked about and not dismissed.

“We have to make those normal conversations, we have to make them open and transparent and our kids will see that and carry that forward.”

The Surgeon General’s Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health says everyone can be included in the solution - young people and their families, educators and schools, and media and technology companies. The agency recommends that the community:

  • 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. And expand and support the early childhood and education workforce.
  • 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. 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.

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