U.S. surgeon general warns of emerging youth mental health crisis in a rare advisory

The U.S. Surgeon General warned of an emerging youth mental health crisis in a rare advisory on Tuesday. The report cited that in the U.S., emergency room visits for suicide attempts rose 51% for adolescent girls in early 2021 as compared to the same period in 2019.

"We have a real increase in the number of kids who are suffering from depression and anxiety; we’ve had suicide attempts," said Jeanne Noble, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at UCSF.

Symptoms of depression and anxiety have doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of youth experiencing depressive symptoms and 20% experiencing anxiety symptoms.

California hasn’t escaped the grasp of this troubling trend, where Noble says, in 2020, there were five times as many children died from suicide than died from COVID-19.

"We saw a more than 20% increase in the number of kids who completed suicide."

Dr. Loretta Whitson, executive director of the California Association of School Counselors says one example, she knew of a student who attended Spanish language class online, and now was going to have to speak it upon returning to class.

 "He had the feeling that he wasn’t going to be successful or that he was going to be behind in his academics and that seems to be a universal anxiety," Dr. Whitson told KTVU.

She said fixing the problem won’t be easy, especially since more counseling staff is needed in schools to help students deal with anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases thoughts of suicide.

"I find that school counselors are becoming very busy. It’s almost becoming instead of dealing with a comprehensive program, it’s almost become an urgent care system with the kids where they’re going next, next and they’re sometimes trying to put Band-Aids on a very big wound," said Whitson.

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The surgeon general has limited direct power, but it is hoped that his declaration will need more attention such as funding at the federal and state level to address the issue.

He recommends that individuals, families, community organizations, tech companies, and governments focus increased effort to combat this problem because if not, it could get worse.

Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General's Advisory