Surgeon General warns of youth mental health crisis

The US surgeon general warned on Tuesday that young people face “devastating” mental health effects due to the challenges faced by their...


The US surgeon general warned on Tuesday that young people face “devastating” mental health effects due to the challenges faced by their generation, including the coronavirus pandemic.

The post came as part of a rare public advisory from the country’s top physician, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, in a 53 page report noting that the pandemic has intensified mental health issues that were already prevalent in the spring of 2020.

The report cited significant increases in self-reports of depression and anxiety as well as more emergency room visits for mental health issues. In the United States, emergency room visits for attempted suicide increased 51% for teenage girls in early 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. This figure rose 4% for boys.

Globally, symptoms of anxiety and depression have doubled during the pandemic, the report notes. But mental health problems were already on the rise in the United States, with emergency room visits linked to depression, anxiety and similar ailments rising 28% between 2011 and 2015.

The reasons are complex and not yet final. Teenage brain chemistry and relationships with friends and family play a role, the report notes, as does a fast-paced media culture, which can leave some young minds helpless.

“Young people are bombarded with messages across the media and popular culture that erode their self-esteem – telling them that they are not good-looking enough, popular enough, smart enough or wealthy enough,” Dr. Murthy wrote in the report. “It comes as progress on legitimate and painful issues like climate change, income inequality, racial injustice, the opioid epidemic and gun violence appears too slow.”

The surgeon general’s advice adds to a growing number of calls for attention and action around adolescent mental health. In October, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association joined together to declare a “national emergency” in youth mental health.

While the blame for adolescent distress is often blamed on social media, screen time is not enough to explain the crisis, according to many researchers. On the contrary, social media and other online activities work more to amplify a teen’s existing mental state, leading some young people to feel more distress and others to experience heightened feelings of connection.

Bonnie Nagel, a pediatric neuropsychologist at Oregon Health & Science University who treats and studies adolescents, said online interactions did not appear to meet basic connection needs. And recent research by her and her colleagues found that feeling lonely is a key predictor of depression and suicidal ideation.

“I don’t think it’s a real human connection when talking to someone online with a false front,” Dr Nagel said.

Additionally, screen time can displace activities known to be vital to physical and mental health, including sleep, exercise, and in-person activities. Studies show. The current generation of teens express increased levels of loneliness – more than any other age group – despite spending countless hours connected to the media.

Authorities and scientists widely recognize that research into the underlying causes is insufficient.

“There is a real shortage of scientists in this field just as there is a real shortage of clinicians,” said Dr Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, in a recent interview. “Parents cannot take care of their children.

Across the country in a variety of settings – rural and urban, richer and poorer – there is a shortage of specialists who can assess conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. In May, the Colorado Children’s Hospital declared its first-ever state of emergency for pediatric mental health, citing emergency rooms “inundated” with young people struggling with suicidal thoughts and other issues.

The researchers hypothesized that the pandemic has intensified stress among young people, in part by isolating them during a period of their lives when social connection is vital for healthy development. But the pandemic does not say everything. In 2019, a group of US lawmakers released a report, “Ring the alarm,” focusing on a suicide crisis among black adolescents, a group that has historically experienced relatively low suicide rates.

Some statistics, such as the increase in suicides and emergency room visits, are striking and undeniable. But accurately measuring the magnitude of the threat to mental health faced by young people and adults, scientists say, is made difficult by the fact that these issues are discussed and assessed more openly than in the past. An increase in self-reports of depression and anxiety may be a reliable indicator of the seizure, or it may be that previous generations also felt distressed but did not have the popular language to describe their emotions.

“The question is whether this is new or if we are medicalizing it,” Dr Gordon said. “These are the kinds of answers that are really, really hard to get.”

Dr Murthy’s advice calls for more resources to be devoted to understanding and addressing mental health issues, and he calls for a greater appreciation of mental health as a key factor in overall health.

“Now is the time to demand change,” the report concludes.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Surgeon General warns of youth mental health crisis
Surgeon General warns of youth mental health crisis
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