ADHD News & Research

Surgeon General Warns of Youth Mental Health Crisis

A mental health crisis is threatening American youth, according to a new U.S. Surgeon General Advisory that references concerning mental health trends, pandemic stressors, unprecedented challenges, and recommended mental health supports for children, adolescents and young adults.

December 13, 2021

Mental health challenges among American youth are widespread and significantly worse due to the pandemic, writes U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a new advisory issued earlier this month.1

The 53-page advisory details alarming trends regarding mental health challenges facing children, adolescents, and young adults, and explains how the pandemic has compounded these problems. It also outlines steps that individuals, organizations, and institutions can take to recognize and mitigate mental-health threats to young people.

The report points to national surveys conducted prior to the pandemic, which show increases in depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms in youth. From 2009 to 2019, for example, the proportion of high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by more than 40%. Suicide rates among youth ages 10 to 24 also increased by 57% between 2007 and 2018.

Researchers believe these trends may be due to the growing use of digital media, plus increased academic pressure and broader stressors like income inequality, racism, and gun violence.

The pandemic also saw increased rates of psychological distress among young people. Global studies show that depressive and anxiety symptoms doubled during the pandemic in this group, and negative emotions and behaviors, like impulsivity and irritability, also grew. Further, racial and ethnic minority youth experienced a higher risk of experiencing mental health challenges during the pandemic.

1United States. Public Health Service. Office of the Surgeon General. (2021). Protecting youth mental health: The U.S. surgeon general’s advisory. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Office of the Surgeon General.