U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory Dec. 8 to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis.

The advisory calls for a swift and coordinated response to the crisis as the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides recommendations for individuals, families, community organizations, technology companies, governments and others to improve the mental health of children, adolescents and young adults. Read the U.S. Surgeon General’s special report here.

 “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade,” Murthy said. “The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school and in the community – and the effect on their mental health has been devastating. The future well-being of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation. Especially in this moment, as we work to protect the health of Americans in the face of a new variant, we also need to focus on how we can emerge stronger on the other side. This advisory shows us how we can all work together to step up for our children during this dual crisis.”

The pandemic has heavily affected those who were vulnerable to begin with, such as youth with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ youth, low-income youth, youth in rural areas, youth in immigrant households, youth involved with the child welfare or juvenile justice systems and homeless youth. This fall, a coalition of the nation’s leading experts in pediatric health declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.

The surgeon general’s advisory outlines a series of recommendations to improve youth mental health across 11 sectors, including young people and their families, educators and schools, and media and technology companies. Topline recommendations include:

  • 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.

 Get Insights on Students’ Mental Health in a Special NJSBA Report

Building a Foundation for Hope” (2019), the final report of the NJSBA Task Force on Mental Health Services in the Public Schools, provides over 70 recommendations to improve the mental health of children, along with guidance and best practices.