The U.S. Is Facing a Youth Mental Health Crisis, the Surgeon General Has Warned

In a new report, the surgeon general lays out how an already dire situation has become worse.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted everyone's collective mental health, and its effects on children and young adults in particular has been "devastating," according to a new government report. In a 53-page advisory released Tuesday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., outlines the scope of the issue and what educators, health professionals, government officials, and others can do to help fix it.

Thanks to factors such as social isolation or loss of loved ones to COVID-19, the pandemic has added to the already lenghty list of mental health challenges that young people face, Dr. Murthy argues in the advisory. He adds that "the national reckoning" surrounding the deaths of Black Americans, COVID-related violence against Asian Americans, gun violence, and concerns about climate change all occured during the pandemic, adding to its challenges. "​​It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place," writes Dr. Murthy. (

These types of advisories from the surgeon general are only published to address "urgent public health issues," which points to just how serious the situation is. The last advisory, concerning health misinformation about COVID-19, was issued in July 2021, while the one before that, on addiction and substance misuse, was released in August 2019. An advisory on mental health in the general population was published in May 2019.

This new advisory cites research suggesting one in four young people globally have experienced depressive symptoms during the pandemic, and one in five have experienced anxiety symptoms. It points out that suspected suicide attempts rose dramatically among teenage girls and slightly among teenage boys in early 2021, compared to early 2019. Sadly, the number of young people struggling with their mental health had already increased exponentially in the years preceding the pandemic, with the number of high school students experiencing "persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness" and the number of them considering suicide rising significantly between 2009 and 2019, according to the advisory. (

This is far from the first time experts have sounded the alarm about mental health during the pandemic. As early as March 2020, mental health professionals were anticipating a stark increase in anxiety disorders, as Time reported. In February 2021, the National Eating Disorders Association saw "a steady 40% increase in helpline contact."

While this is all a lot to contend with, Dr. Murthy stresses in the new advisory that change is both possible and necessary. He lists steps that individuals, communities, organizations, and institutions can follow such as teaching young people how to manage difficult emotions, ensuring all children have access to mental health care, and increasing research on mental well-being. (

In response to the report, the National Alliance on Mental Illness stated, "We hope that today's Advisory helps elevate these critical issues of youth mental health on the public policy agenda and that every one of us embraces the roles we can play." You can find the full report here to learn more about how you might help.

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