Axios Event: U.S. Surgeon General says youths are in decade-long mental health crisis

By Emily Hamilton. Reprinted from Axios.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called today’s youth mental health crisis the “defining public health issue of our time” as more young people battle mental health challenges and increased rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness.

Why it matters: Feelings of loneliness and social isolation among young people rose during the pandemic and continue to worsen as increased social media use isolates teens from in-person connection with peers, worsening the risks of depression and anxiety, experts said at an Axios event.

Background: Axios senior health care reporter Tina Reed and senior reporter Caitlin Owens moderated conversations with NAMI chief advocacy officer Hannah Wesolowski, Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Murthy at the event.

  • This event was sponsored by Pinterest and the Schultz Family Foundation.

What they’re saying: “When you talk directly to young people as well and look even more into the data, you see that even before the pandemic and the decade prior to COVID, there was a 57% increase in the rate of suicide among young people,” Murthy said.

One proposed solution calls for more mental health counselors in schools — although the ongoing shortage of mental health care providers and funding shortfalls is expected to make it a difficult goal to achieve.

  • Providing mental health services in schools could make it easier for kids to get needed care they wouldn’t otherwise receive, said NAMI chief advocacy officer Hannah Wesolowski.
  • “Individuals that receive mental health services in the school are six times more likely to stick with that treatment,” Wesolowski said.

Mental health has risen to prominence as a key issue for lawmakers in recent years. Watson Coleman noted a good thing that happened as a result of the pandemic “is that you can’t be on the Hill right now and not have a conversation that includes a discussion of mental health.”

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In a View From the Top conversation, Pinterest chief legal and business affairs officer Wanji Walcott outlined the role public-private sector partnerships can play in addressing youth mental health challenges.

  • recently announced partnership between Pinterest, the Schultz Family Foundation and AmeriCorps created a Youth Mental Health Corps that will train young adults to help their peers access mental health care. The program is funded by both public and private sector entities.
  • “I think especially if you are in tech, if you are in [the] social platform space, I think we have a responsibility to really think about the role that we can play to solve what is a serious crisis with our young people,” Walcott said.

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