Surgeon General: The mental health of the nation’s youth is in crisis

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, added to the chorus of experts expressing concern over the state of mental health of young Americans last week, issuing an advisory on the urgent need to address the crisis mental health issues among the country’s youth.

In the advisoryDr Murthy called the challenges facing young Americans today “unprecedented and particularly difficult to overcome.” The ‘unfathomable’ number of deaths from COVID-19, high levels of fear, economic instability and forced physical estrangement from loved ones have all played a key role in worsening mental health among young people, Murthy added.

But the youth mental health crisis was looming even before the pandemic began, Murthy wrote.

RELATED: Pediatricians Say Children’s Mental Health is a National Emergency

The COVID-19 pandemic: a tipping point?

Maya smith, executive director of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation for Youth Mental Health, agrees with Murthy’s assessment. “Young people around the world, especially members of marginalized communities, faced significant challenges long before the pandemic,” says Smith. “A lot of young people – honestly, a lot of people – felt lonely, isolated and unable to access mental health resources. “

From 2009 to 2019, the proportion of high school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%, those who were seriously considering suicide increased by 36%, and those who planned to kill themselves. increased by 44%. according to 2009-2019 survey on risky behavior among young people (PDF) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (PDF).

The pandemic, experts say, has made it all worse.

“The pandemic has proven that many young people now exist in a confused space with the need to motivate themselves, reconnect with their peers and prioritize the things that matter most, including hobbies, study time and physical activity ”, says David Vidaurre, a licensed master social worker and senior therapist at The Dorm, specializing in mental health care for young adults in New York and Washington, DC.

This loss of routine and structure contributed to feelings of hopelessness, uncertainty and disconnection, adding to feelings of isolation and loneliness that existed long before the pandemic, adds Vidaurre.

Youth who may be most prone to mental health issues during the pandemic, according to the advisory, include youth with developmental disabilities, youth from racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ + youth, youth living in immigrant households. , among others.

And several risk factors for mental health issues as COVID-19 rages include having mental health issues before the pandemic, living in an area with more severe outbreaks of COVID-19, having relatives or caregivers working in frontline, losing a loved one to COVID-19, and experiencing abuse, neglect, discrimination or community violence.

RELATED: Under Pressure: How Social Media, Drugs, and the Changing Sexuality Landscape Challenge the Mental Health of Younger Generations

Protecting and Rebuilding Youth Mental Health: Strategies for Parents

The question that arises, of course, is what can be done about it? Mental health experts agree that parents must play a major role.

“The most important thing for young people is that they feel seen, heard and supported,” says Smith. “Having someone like a parent or the like who listens, believes in, and watches over them has a huge impact on mental well-being, and these acts are among the best ways to show respect and kindness to your children. “

The advisory recommends that parents create a safe and loving home environment, where family members can openly discuss mental health and where people listen to each other. Parents should also encourage their children to be physically active and socialize with their peers, and to take care of themselves, while monitoring children’s use of social media.

Laura Gray, PhD, a psychologist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, agrees: Staying active, engaging in enjoyable activities, and staying socially connected all help protect mental health. She recommends the following strategies for parents:

  • Structure daily activities. Plan for physical and social activities to help your children avoid isolating themselves and stay active.
  • Model healthy coping strategies. For example, if you burned dinner while cooking, say something like, “I’m feeling so frustrated right now. I can step away for a minute and take a deep breath to calm myself down. Then I’ll come back to come up with a new plan, ”suggests Dr. Gray.
  • Make a list of coping strategies. Start with a “calming corner” or “recovery spot” and practice meditation or mindfulness exercises as a family. Use adaptation cards for younger children (preschool through elementary and middle school).
  • Register with specific questions. According to Gray, some examples include: “I noticed that you have a lot to do. How do you deal with your stress? How has your mood been lately? Are there times when you feel completely overwhelmed or hopeless? “
  • Seek professional help. Make an appointment with your child’s primary care doctor or contact the school guidance counselor. Other trusted adults can also contact your child and determine if he needs professional help or more support at home or at school.

It’s also important to tell your kids that it’s okay to disagree, Smith adds. “As a parent myself, I try to model the kind of (age appropriate) vulnerability that I hope to receive from my children,” she says.

“For example, I tell my 6 year old daughter when I made a mistake, and I do it often,” says Smith. “I tell my 9 year old son how I feel when I am left out, empathizing with his experience on the soccer field or with friends. I listen without being judgmental and hope that as their needs increase, so will my ability to listen and support.

Gray also recommends asking your child if they are considering self-harm or suicide. And if your child answers “yes” to any questions about the idea of ​​killing himself, tell him his feelings are normal and contact a health care professional immediately.

“Young people with suicidal thoughts are often afraid to upset their parents and choose not to share,” says Gray. “It is common to think about suicide, but we want to prevent suicide attempts. We want kids and teens to talk to trusted adults to create a plan to keep them safe, like removing any items they thought were used to hurt themselves, keeping them in public areas of the house, going online support systems and find a therapist. “

Health care professionals also recommend removing dangerous items from the home, such as medications, sharp objects, bleach or cleaning products, or firearms. “Reducing access to methods of suicide can save your child’s life when they are in the middle of a mental health crisis and feel impulsive,” says Gray.

Self-help and professional help for children

In her review, Murthy encourages young people to protect their personal mental health with some basic strategies, including eating well, exercising, sticking to a schedule and staying hydrated.

According to Gray, it’s also important for kids to know when they need a break from social media. Signs that this is negatively impacting mental health include feeling depressed, guilty, jealous or embarrassed, or low self-esteem after viewing social media.

Gray recommends that children take a break from social media for a set amount of time – one to two weeks, for example, “to reflect on and consider changes in social media use, such as reducing the people they follow, how often they use them, find platforms, or extend their break on social media.

Allowing time for leisure time and re-energizing when tired can also help, suggests Vidaurre. “Young people should focus on the things they love, like journaling, spinning baskets with friends, rearranging their rooms and looking for opportunities to discover a new hobby or passion. “

All of this is easy to say if you are feeling good enough, emotionally, to act on it. Not all children are right now. In this case, the children may need professional help. But sometimes young people find it difficult to access the services they need.

“Access to mental health care for our young people is a long-term problem, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the lack of access even more acute,” says psychiatrist Patrice Harris, MD, chief medical editor general at Everyday Health, and past president of the American Medical Association. “Now is the time to commit to the infrastructure and funding that will be needed to meet the need for timely access to quality care that meets the unique needs of children and youth.

In the meantime, how can young people access mental health treatment options like therapy or medication? Starting a conversation with a trusted adult is often a first step.

“If you are having trouble dealing with negative emotions, contact a nurse or school counselor, teacher, parent or caregiver, coach, religious leader, or other person you trust and trust. Murthy recommends in his review. . “Look to therapy or counseling resources for support when something is causing distress and interfering with your life. Reaching out to others can be difficult and takes courage, but it’s worth it and reminds us that we are not alone.

Resources we love

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

This organization supports people with thoughts of suicide. To learn how to talk to a loved one who plans to commit suicide, or acquire help for yourself or someone you know. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) or texting HOME at 741741. If you are concerned for your safety or that of anyone else, dial 911.

American Psychiatric Association

This association offers educational material, as well as help find a psychiatrist, on its website. Read more on their website about the types of services offered by psychiatrists.

Depressed in black

This online community supports access to Black Assertive mental health care for Blacks with severe depression. Think about loving the Facebook page to stay up to date on community events, or subscribe to the email bulletin.

The Trevor project

This organization aims to prevent suicide among young lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queer. Call 866-488-7386 or text START at 678-678 to reach their crisis hotline.

RELATED: The Right Resources Can Help You Deal With Depression

Comments are closed.