Surgeon general warns of mental health challenges confronting youth

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Vivek Murthy, nominee for US Surgeon General, arrives to testify before a confirmation hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee in Washington, DC, on February 25, 2021. (Photo by TOM BRENNER / POOL / AFP) (Photo by TOM BRENNER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

(The Hill) – U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has issued a public health advisory about mental health challenges young people are grappling with especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place,” Murthy said in the advisory’s introduction.

“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 added.

The Office of the Surgeon General also noted that the pandemic had caused anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns to increase in young people. Additionally, it is estimated that over 140,000 children in the U.S. lost a parent or grandparent caregiver as a result of the pandemic.

“As we learn the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, and start recovering and rebuilding, we have an opportunity to offer a more comprehensive, more fulfilling, and more inclusive vision of what constitutes public health. And for a generation of children facing unprecedented pressures and stresses, day in and day out, change can’t come soon enough,” the advisory concluded.

In a tweet announcing the advisory, Murthy added that “mental health is no less important than physical health.”

The Children’s Hospital Association, which represents 220 children’s hospitals nationwide, praised Murthy’s actions. 

“The Surgeon General’s commitment to confronting the mental health crisis in children shines a light on why we, as a nation, must take immediate and sustained action,” Amy Wimpey Knight, the president of the Children’s Hospital Association, said. “The advisory outlines concrete steps and actions to address this ongoing crisis for our kids. We will work alongside Dr. Murthy and other leaders to better support the mental health of our nation’s youth.”

Apart from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns for social media’s negative impact on young people’s mental health have recently heightened after a Facebook whistleblower leaked internal documents that showed research about the negative impact of the platform on young people. 

State attorneys general announced last month that they were investigating whether Instagram’s parent company acted in violation of certain consumer protection laws by promoting the app to young users despite knowing its use is associated with harming their health. 

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