Surgeon General Sounds Alarm About Youth Mental Health; The head of the hospital says the crisis also exists in Ky.

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By Mélissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has released his second health advisory, which says there is an urgent need to address a mental health crisis among the nation’s young people. And Dr. Scottie Day, chief medical officer at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, says Kentucky is part of the crisis.

Murthy said in a press release, “Mental health issues among 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 suicidal thoughts – and rates have increased over the past decade. “The Covid-19 pandemic has further altered their experiences at home, at 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. “

Murthy’s 53-page opinion, titled Protecting Youth Mental Health, says one in three high school students before the pandemic reported lingering feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a 40% increase from 2009 to 2019 .

(Click to enlarge the graph)

And in a similar time frame, suicide rates have increased by 57% among young people aged 10 to 24.

Since then, the rates of anxiety and depression have only increased.

The report notes that the pandemic has added to the pre-existing challenges that young Americans faced and disrupted their lives, including disruption to education, social opportunities, access to health and social care, food, housing and, in many cases, the health of their caregivers. In addition, the report states that the negative impacts of the pandemic were most severe on the most vulnerable young people initially, such as racial and ethnic minorities and low-income youth.

“It would be a tragedy if we pushed back one public health crisis only to allow another to grow in its place,” Murthy said in the report’s introduction, later adding: “Our obligation to act is not only medical, it’s moral. ”

The advisory calls for a coordinated response and provides detailed recommendations for 11 sectors, including young people and their families, educators and schools, community organizations and governments, and media and technology groups, on how which they can work to improve the mental health of young people.

Murthy’s first opinion was on disinformation about Covid-19. Advisories are reserved for important public health issues that require immediate nation awareness and action.

Youth mental health in Kentucky

Day said the youth mental health problem is so serious in Kentucky that it prompted Kentucky Children’s Hospital to join a political group called Sound the Alarm for Kids, created to urge Congress to pass legislation and increase funding to address the national children’s mental health emergency. and teens.

“The reason we are engaging policy makers is because we have seen an incredible mental health crisis,” he said.

Ring the Alarm for Children represents more than 200 children’s hospitals and 77,000 physicians. It was started by the Children’s Hospital Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, according to the hospital association’s press release.

Day agreed with the surgeon general that the pandemic has worsened the crisis in youth mental health, saying it has gone from a gradual increase in cases before the pandemic to a steep slope, and that it has worsened since the second wave of cases.

Scottie Day, MD

Day highlighted the challenges faced by so many Kentucky children that existed long before the pandemic hit, including high poverty rates and the highest rate of child abuse in the country. And that’s part of another phenomenon: 140,000 American children have lost at least one caregiver to the pandemic.

“So you already have a state of fragility in a household which has probably become more fragile,” he said.

Day pointed out that suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults in Kentucky, and that the suicide death rate among black youth has increased faster than in any other racial or ethnic group, which l ‘prompted one to ask, “What are we doing?” What are we missing? ”

The Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that in 2019, 18.4% of Kentucky high school students seriously considered attempting suicide, 15.9% planned how they would do it, and 8, 1% had actually tried it in the previous 12 months. In 2020, 105 children and young adults aged 10 to 24 died by suicide in Kentucky, according to preliminary data from the Kentucky Injury and Prevention Research Center.

“We cannot ignore this,” Day said. “What Kentucky looks like 10 or 20 years from now will not depend on what happens to people in their 50s or 60s or 70s… It will depend on what we do about what’s going on with our kids right now. , this minute.

Another indicator that young people in Kentucky have mental health issues is the number of screenings young people take on MHAScreening.org.

According to data from Mental Health America of Kentucky, 17,419 people underwent voluntary mental health screening in the first three quarters of 2021. Of these, 61.68% were performed by people aged 11 to 24. ; 30.64% were taken by 11 to 17 year olds and 0.57% by 4 to 10 year olds.

Day stressed that it will take a group effort to tackle this problem if we are to see results. “So we’re trying to get everyone to wake up and talk about it,” he said.

Mental Health America of Kentucky Executive Director Marcie Timmerman encouraged parents to talk to children about their mental health.

“It’s important to have conversations about mental health in the home with people of all ages, but especially with our youth and teens,” said Timmerman. “We know they are in trouble. The numbers show it, and the stories students tell further underscore the problem. Everyone has a brain, so everyone has to maintain their sanity. It is not about town or country, urban or rural, rich or poor. Our [youth] need us to step up our efforts and help them find good coping skills.

Day said that in addition to ensuring that young people in Kentucky have access to “high quality, culturally appropriate health care,” we also need to work to overcome the stigma associated with it and ensure that what schools and health care providers screen for mental disorders. health. In addition, he said, as a nation, we must remove the economic and social barriers that contribute to mental health.

“And part of that is just to get people to talk about it,” he said. “We need to recognize that mental health is an essential part of overall health. ”

When asked when a parent should seek help for their child, Day replied, “Whenever you have a problem, you ask for help. ”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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