HHS Secretary to address children’s mental health crisis ahead of upcoming school year

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference at the headquarters of HHS June 28, 2022 in Washington, DC.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference at the headquarters of HHS June 28, 2022 in Washington, DC. Photo credit (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra is headed to Nemours Children’s Health in Delaware Monday to discuss improving children’s mental health.

Late last year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory “to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis,” according to the HHS department. At the time, he said COVID-19 related pressures only exacerbated issues for the “alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide,” even before the pandemic began.

At Nemours Children’s Health in Wilmington, De., next week, Becerra is expected to highlight the Biden-Harris administration’s investments into child and teacher mental health needs ahead of the upcoming school year. He has already made similar trips around the country as part of his National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health, said a Saturday press release.

In May, agencies across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) “issued a joint letter to states, tribes, and jurisdictions encouraging them to prioritize and maximize their efforts to strengthen children’s mental health and well-being.”

Back in December, Murthy also released recommendations for prioritizing mental health that included recognizing mental health as an essential part of overall health and timely data collection about mental health statistics.

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. having a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder,” said the Health and Human Services department. “Additionally, from 2009 to 2019, the share of high school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%, to more than 1 in 3 students.”

Suicidal behaviors among high school students further increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the department. Lockdown measures and remote schooling have disrupted the lives of young people in the U.S. – particularly already vulnerable communities – as well as their caregivers and educators, it explained.

According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, a non-profit that advocates for low-income people, “teachers are experiencing a mental health crisis that’s pushing them out of the profession,” and average salaries for teachers have declined over the past two decades.

Data released in March by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that “nearly half (44%) of public schools currently report full- or part-time teaching vacancies,” and many identified COVID-19 as the cause.

“Federal, state, and district policymakers must focus on lasting solutions, such as improving wages, professional development, and the evaluation process,” said the Center for Law and Social Policy. Part of Murthy’s plan also calls for the nation to “expand and support the early childhood and education workforce.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)