U.S. Surgeon General Report Warns of Mental Health Crisis Hitting Youth

Pandemic and other major issues faced by their generation are causing 'devastating' mental health effects in young people

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WEDNESDAY, Dec. 8, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- The pandemic has intensified mental health struggles that were already widespread among American teens, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D., warned Tuesday.

The pandemic and other major issues faced by their generation are causing "devastating" mental health effects in young people, he warned in a new report. Emergency room visits for suicide attempts by adolescent girls were 51 percent higher in early 2021 than in early 2019, and they were 4 percent higher for boys.

Worldwide, symptoms of anxiety and depression doubled during the pandemic, but mental health issues were already increasing in the United States before COVID-19, according to Murthy. For example, emergency department visits due to depression, anxiety, and similar conditions rose 28 percent between 2011 and 2015, the report showed.

The causes of the mental health crisis among youth are complex, and include adolescent brain chemistry, family and friends, and a fast-paced media culture, according to Murthy. "Young people are bombarded with messages through the media and popular culture that erode their sense of self-worth -- telling them they are not good-looking enough, popular enough, smart enough, or rich enough," Murthy writes. "That comes as progress on legitimate, and distressing, issues like climate change, income inequality, racial injustice, the opioid epidemic, and gun violence feels too slow."

The surgeon general's report is the latest call for action on adolescent mental health. In October, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association jointly declared "a national emergency" in youth mental health.

Murthy’s advisory called for more resources to be devoted to understanding and addressing mental health challenges. "This is a moment to demand change," the report concluded.

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