U.S. Surgeon-General: 'I'm So Concerned About Our Children'

By Susan Jones | December 27, 2021 | 10:31am EST
(Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Earlier this month, U.S. Surgeon-General Vivek Murthy released a report highlighting what he called "the urgent need" to address the mental health crisis among young people -- a crisis made worse by the COVID pandemic and its resulting social isolation.

On Sunday, Murthy told CNN's "State of the Union" that addressing the youth mental health crisis is a "moral obligation," and supportive parents are the key:

I'm so concerned about our children, because there is an epidemic, if you will, of mental health challenges that they've been facing.

And it's partly because of the pandemic. We've seen certainly that many children have lost loved ones during this pandemic; 140,000 kids lost a caregiver. We know that their lives have been turned upside down. They haven't been able to see friends as often as they would. And that's taken a toll. It's why we've seen anxiety and depression rates go up among kids.

But here's the really important part, Dana. Our kids were struggling long before the pandemic. You know, the decade before the pandemic, we saw a 40 percent increase in the number of high school students who said they felt persistent feelings of hopelessness or sadness. We had increases in suicide rates among kids, to alarming levels.

So, our children have been struggling for a while. And the reason I issued this advisory is because we have, I believe, a moral obligation to take action to support our kids, because they could be doing much better than they are. And every child deserves a shot at good health.

Murthy said removing the "terrible stigma" around mental health treatment is imperative:

Many kids feel ashamed at their struggles. And they're not sure if it's OK to ask for health.

One of the most powerful things that parents can do is to start a conversation with their children about mental health, to let them know it's OK if you struggle. That doesn't mean that you're broken in some way. And you're certainly not the only one, because a lot of kids also feel that they're alone.

Starting that conversation is important, so your kids know that it's OK for them to come to you for help.

It's also important for parents to encourage kids to seek out help, even if it's not from them, if it's from a school counselor or teacher, because many kids are struggling, but they don't know if it's OK for them to ask for help.

And, finally, just keep in mind that our relationships in our lives, for our kids and for adults, are one of our most powerful buffers for stress, one of our most important supports, if you will, for our mental health.

And encouraging our children to invest in relationships with family members, with friends is such an important part of ensuring their mental health and well-being.

The Surgeon General’s Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health includes the following recommendations, some of them (early childhood education) in line with the Biden "Build Back Better" agenda:

-- 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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