The Surgeon General warns, a youth mental health crisis is here

'This is a critical issue that we have to do something about now'
U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy
Photo credit Getty Images

It’s been a burdensome couple of years as COVID-19 has ravaged through the U.S., forever changing life as we know it. While the virus itself has taken the lives of more than 788,000 Americans and burdened millions more with lasting physical ailments, it’s the mental health struggles that are far more dangerous than we may realize, especially for our youth.

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While the pandemic has taken a mental toll on us all, it’s Americans between the ages of 13 and 24 (Generation Z) that U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, is giving a grim warning about.

Not only has the pandemic robbed Gen Z of many life milestones like graduations, proms, sports competitions and school, but it has also forced a sense of isolation as interactions are limited to on-screen and loneliness is at an all-time high.

“I acknowledge the privilege of being able to go to college, and I know so many people have suffered through worse things, but there’s also this feeling of ‘this is supposed to be the greatest time of my life’ and I’m sitting in my room staring at a computer,” 20-year-old University of Michigan student, Isabelle Schindler, told Washington Post.

“The uncertainty can be crushing,” she continued. “It’s like, I have to do this homework assignment, but every time when I go on Twitter, there’s something horrible going on. It just feels difficult to, like, reconcile those two things and sort of compartmentalize it.”

The burden of a pandemic is taking its toll and the stats show it. According to a recent report released by Murthy, emergency room visits for suicide attempts by adolescent girls are up 51% since 2019 with boys also increasing by 4 points. Additionally, depression and anxiety diagnoses have doubled throughout Gen Z among the pandemic, with a whopping 25% of members experiencing symptoms of depression and 20% experiencing symptoms of anxiety.

"This is a critical issue that we have to do something about now," Murthy reported with urgency. "We can't wait until after the pandemic is over."

American Psychological Association (APA) chief science officer, Mitch Prinstein chimed in, telling Washington Post, “suicide already was the second leading cause of death for children. We had already seen pretty high levels of substance use, depression and violent behavior. But the pandemic has been a perfect storm of a stressor, which we know leads to really notable increases in psychological symptoms among kids.”

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So how do we tackle the wildly concerning uptick in struggling youths? According to Murthy, rapid action, more resources and acknowledgement are all key ingredients, along with action from all members of the community.

“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real, and they are widespread. But most importantly, they are treatable, and often preventable,” he shared before detailing courses of action for all citizens.

“There is much more to be done, and each of us has a role to play. Supporting the mental health of children and youth will require a whole-of-society effort to address longstanding challenges, strengthen the resilience of young people, support their families and communities, and mitigate the pandemic’s mental health impacts.”

He continued, “Mental health conditions are real, common, and treatable, and people experiencing mental health challenges deserve support, compassion, and care, not stigma and shame. Mental health is no less important than physical health. And that must be reflected in our how we communicate about and prioritize mental health.”

Read Murthy’s full report, and detailed plan for supporting youth mental health initiatives here.

Audacy's I’m Listening initiative aims to encourage those who are dealing with mental health issues to understand they are not alone. If you or anyone you know is struggling with depression or anxiety, know that someone is always there. Additionally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-8255.

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