The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are far-reaching and impact the world without discrimination. From the abrupt disruption of day-to-day life and isolation is a growing youth health crisis. The US surgeon general recently issued an advisory to warn of the escalating youth mental health crisis. The advisory highlights the devastating rise in mental health challenges young people are experiencing, the increase in various mental health-related statistics, as well as actionable recommendations to create positive change.
Increasing Youth Mental Health Issues
Mental health challenges were on the rise before the pandemic began in 2020. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported a 57-percent increase in youth suicide deaths from 2007 to 2018. In addition, the CDC reported significant increases in reported mental illness and mental health issues among adolescents, including suicidal ideation from 2005 to 2017.
Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real, and they are widespread. But most importantly, they are treatable, and often preventable,” US Surgeon General Vivek H. MurthyUS Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy
According to the surgeon general’s report, depressive symptoms doubled across the globe during the pandemic. In 2021, emergency room visits for attempted suicide among adolescent girls increased by 51 percent. In 2020, the CDC estimated over 6,600 suicide deaths among young adults between ages 10 to 24.
“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real, and they are widespread. But most importantly, they are treatable, and often preventable,” US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy stated in the advisory.
How Has The Pandemic Impacted The Crisis?
The healthy development of adolescents requires a complex and well-rounded structure involving friends, family, education, peer interaction, and many other aspects. The pandemic created a dramatic upset in nearly everyone’s life, but adolescents suddenly found themselves without the very foundation from which they were growing and evolving.
Entire semesters of in-person schooling were lost. Other significant changes to critical social and extracurricular activities such as sports, band, dances, graduation ceremonies, and other peer groups came to an unexpected halt in 2020. Furthermore, it is estimated that over 140,000 children in the US experienced the loss of a caregiver, such as a parent or a grandparent, to Covid-19.
In addition to routine upsets, adolescents found themselves relying on social media to remain connected to the outside world. Social media use was at an all-time high during the height of the pandemic. Studies have found that high social media use can have harmful effects on mental health. The reliance on social media for interpersonal connections has led to a lack of intimacy and genuine human connection and expression.
From a social work perspective, the pandemic increased the number of adult domestic violence and abuse reports while child abuse reports significantly decreased. The reasons for this trend are not known definitively, though it could be the result of children stuck indoors and out of sight with their abusers.
Furthermore, more and more children and families are seeking mental health resources and treatment but are experiencing a shortage of services and practitioners. As a result, longer wait times for therapy and medical services have created a bottleneck in treatment.
Who Is At Risk?
The surgeon general’s advisory emphasizes which demographics are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health challenges. These demographics include those with developmental disabilities, low-income, minority, and LGBTQ youth.
Low-income youth, for instance, reported struggling with losing access to resources such as free school lunches or limited access to the internet. LGBT youth reported elevated depressive symptoms due to being isolated in a home with a family that does not support them.
What Can Be Done?
The advisory outlines actionable steps that can be taken to support adolescent mental health. The advisory defines immediate actions and long-term systemic improvements that prioritize mental health as a society.
Dr. Murthy provides each major group and community with a key list of efforts that can be made to create positive change. Groups from family members and educators to social media and gaming companies. Dr. Murthy emphasizes that prioritizing this crisis is a “whole-of-society” effort.
One such effort is acknowledging the importance of mental health. Dr. Murthy urges the recognition of mental health as a crucial step to overall health and well-being. Moreover, it is a major step in addressing the crisis. “Our obligation to act is not just medical—it’s moral,” US surgeon general Vivek H. Murthy states. The responsibility is everyone’s, and efforts are critical.
The Moment For Change Is Now
The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for all generations. As the world begins to repair and rebuild from these challenges comes an opportunity to start a conversation around what public health truly is.
An opportunity to create a culture that prioritizes the protection and health of children is at hand. This positive cultural shift will take time and a conscious effort from everyone. However, a culture that emphasizes all aspects of health is a possibility and one that will be worth the effort.
To learn more about mental wellness, contact Silicon Beach Behavioral Health today.