Protecting Youth Mental Health: The US Surgeon General’s Advisory
Recent national surveys of young people have shown alarming increases in the prevalence of certain mental health challenges. We know that mental health is shaped by many factors, from our genes and brain chemistry to our relationships with family and friends, neighborhood conditions, and larger social forces and policies. We also know that, too often, young people are bombarded with messages through the media and popular culture that erode their sense of self-worth—telling them they are not good looking enough, popular enough, smart enough, or rich enough.
All of that was true even before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered young peoples’ experiences at home, at school, and in the community. The pandemic has exacerbated the unprecedented stresses young people already faced. It would be a tragedy if we beat back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place. Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real, and they are widespread. But most importantly, they are treatable, and often preventable.
Our obligation to act is not just medical—it’s moral. I believe that, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have an unprecedented opportunity as a country to rebuild in a way that refocuses our identity and common values, puts people first, and strengthens our connections to each other. If we seize this moment, step up for our children and their families in their moment of need, and lead with inclusion, kindness, and respect, we can lay the foundation for a healthier, more resilient, and more fulfilled nation.
Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, Surgeon General of the United States