Pandemic, social media hurt teen mental health: Surgeon general

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — The United States surgeon general is sending a warning and calling on lawmakers to provide more support to American children and young adults dealing with mental health issues.

Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said it’s gotten worse during the pandemic 

Emergency room visits for suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17 from Feb. 21 to March 20, 2021, were up more than 50% compared to the same period in 2019, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the report, among boys, there was a 4% rise in suspected suicide attempts over the same period when comparing this year to 2019. However, the authors noted that this does not necessarily mean an uptick in suicide deaths.

Murthy said the pandemic has had a devastating impact on our youth.

“But at the heart of the youth mental health crisis is a pervasive stigma that tells young people they should be embarrassed if they are struggling with depression, anxiety, stress or loneliness,” Murthy said. “It makes a human condition feel inhuman.”

Murthy said the biggest challenge is access to care; on average, it takes 11 years from the onset of symptoms before a child begins receiving treatment. Meanwhile, social media apps have made it easier for children to isolate and compare themselves to others in recent years.

“These platforms have also exacerbated feelings of loneliness, futility and low self-esteem for youth,” Murthy said. “They’ve also contributed to a bombardment of messages via traditional and social media that undermine this generation’s sense of self-worth.”

Murthy said children need three things: immediate access to high-quality care, prevention programs at school and a better understanding of the impact technology and social media have on young people. 

He also said many people suffer in silence, so the key is to get children and adults the resources and help they need. 

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts or needs help dealing with mental health concerns, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 800-273-8255 (TALK) for free emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


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