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INDIANAPOLIS — As the nation continues to protect our youth from the coronavirus with vaccinations, the U.S. surgeon general is highlighting another ongoing struggle.

On Tuesday, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a new Surgeon General’s Advisory to highlight the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis.

This news is not surprising for Hillary Blake, a pediatric psychologist at Riley Hospital.

“As a psychologist here at Riley, we have seen a major increase in the need for psychiatric services, not only here across the state,” said Blake.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in late June of 2020, 31% of respondents reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, and 13% reported having started or increased substance use. These numbers are nearly double the rates the CDC would have expected pre-pandemic.

The U.S. Surgeon General said mental health challenges have plagued the nation’s youth even before the pandemic.

Whitney Nixon, a service provider support director for the Indiana Youth Services Association, said the COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded those issues.

“We’re now seeing a pretty significant increase for youth now experiencing some of those feelings of isolation and feelings of loneliness, feelings of disconnectedness,” said Nixon.

Some of the factors Nixon mentioned our nation’s youth are experiencing are feelings of uncertainty that are directly related to the pandemic and the significant life changes that they have had to go through because of it.

A recent poll from MTV and the Associated Press found that nearly two years into the pandemic, 13 to 24-year-olds still find the pandemic to be a source of stress that continues to interfere with social lives, educational and career goals, and their wellbeing.

Overall, 35% of Gen Z frequently experience stress and another 46% reported experiencing it sometimes. Uncertainty about the pandemic and fear of infection are among the top sources of stress for this generation, comparable to finances, body image and family or personal relationships.

Blake said she does not see one single solution to the issue, as it is a widespread problem.

“When we think about access to mental health is probably the number one thing that we need to work on, and not only that, access for public, but the mental health for everyone,” said Blake. “This includes individuals who are on Medicaid or Medicare.”

The surgeon general’s advisory calls for a swift and coordinated response to the crisis, providing recommendations that people can take to improve the mental health of our youth, with up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. having a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder. 

  • 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.