As children's mental health issues skyrocket, it's time it was at the top of the national dialogue!
Updated: Feb 11, 2022
-Samira Sine and David Kirsch
It's never been easy to just be a kid. At Just For The Children, we were writing, posting, and inviting the best minds in the world to speak on the complex subject of mental health and our young children.
Already on the decline, pre-pandemic, today the figures are truly concerning.
It takes the U.S. Surgeon General to raise the red flag, but we're so happy he did! We are not as thrilled that the mental health of America's youth has been declared a national emergency.
To be fair, this serious mental health issue existed long before the pandemic. Youth mental health was declining rapidly.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health issues were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. having a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder. This is straight from the U.S. Surgeon General's office and we don't need to do a big re-write. Sad figures and deeply disturbing.
1. From 2009 to 2019, high school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%, to more than 1 in 3 students.
2. Suicidal behaviors among high school students also increased during the decade preceding COVID, with 19% seriously considering attempting suicide, a 36% increase from 2009 to 2019, and about 16% having made a suicide plan in the prior year, a 44% increase from 2009 to 2019.
3. Between 2007 and 2018, suicide rates among youth ages 10-24 in the U.S. increased by 57%, and early estimates show more than 6,600 suicide deaths in this age group in 2020.
4. The Surgeon General’s advisory calls for a swift and coordinated response to this crisis as the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides recommendations that individuals, families, community organizations, technology companies, governments, and others can take to improve the mental health of children, adolescents and young adults.
“The COVID pandemic just made matters worse. Much worse. A child's experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating.
This is critically important to understand. Because these children are the next generation and we are in a critical moment in time. The time is now. The Surgeon General's advisory asks for a whole community approach to help children during this time. This includes thoughtful engagement between federal, state and local government, schools and parents, mental health experts, business leaders and more. It's time to step up for society's youngest. And no one group can go it alone.
There's a school of thought that the hardships of the pandemic on children are character-building. We've read the research and with all due respect to those who believe that, we disagree. It's time to realize that our children's mental health is not an experiment in character building.
Disrupted academics, friendships, a lack of access to health care and social services, food, and worries about the health of their care-givers are just a few of the challenges our children face.
Missing in-person friendships once school shut down was rough. So rough. But trying to regain a sense of normalcy is also hard. Children who have missed out on over two years of consistency can't just jump back in. They need trained experts to support the adults in their lives. Those adults need a new approach- from re-entering academic, athletic and social lives to just being able to talk about their feelings. Kids need to know it's ok not to feel alright.
There has to be an understanding that a break from extra-curricular activities like sports, music, and more can take years to make up. We don't want to look back at the research ten years from now, when we've raised a nation of broken humans.
We need to act now!
We've taken the liberty of using the Surgeon General Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health and his recommendations to improve youth mental health across eleven sectors, including young people and their families, educators and schools, and media and technology companies.
Recognize that mental health is an essential part of overall health.
Empower youth and their families to recognize, manage, and learn from difficult emotions.
Ensure that every child has access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care.
Support the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings. And expand and support the early childhood and education workforce.
Address the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health for young people, families, and caregivers.
Increase timely data collection and research to identify and respond to youth mental health needs more rapidly. This includes more research on the relationship between technology and youth mental health, and technology companies should be more transparent with data and algorithmic processes to enable this research.
Surgeon General's Advisories are public statements that call the American people's attention to a public health issue and provide recommendations for how it should be addressed. Advisories are reserved for significant public health challenges that need the American people's immediate attention.
Read the full Surgeon General’s Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health - PDF.
For more information about the Office of the Surgeon General, please visit: www.surgeongeneral.gov.
This article was written by Samira Sine and David Kirsch, who discussed mental health as a growing issue well before these alerts were issued. We appreciate the U.S Surgeon General's decision to make a child's overall wellbeing a top national priority.
Thank you, Dr. Vivek Murthy. We support you in your work, and programs.