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Youths face 'devastating' mental health issues in pandemic, surgeon general warns

ER visits for suspected suicide attempts in the early months of the year were 51 percent higher for adolescent girls than in 2019, a recent survey found.

In an alarming report released Tuesday, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy warned that the pandemic and other "unprecedented" challenges are having "devastating" impacts on American youths' mental health.

The report follows a recent poll conducted by The Associated Press and MTV that found the pandemic has had a pronounced impact on teenagers and young adults when it comes to education, dating and relationships.

Here are some key takeaways from the surgeon general's report: 

  • Several groups of young people are at higher risk of mental health challenges during the pandemic, including those in rural areas who lack access to educational and mental health services, as well as racial and ethnic minority youth who have experienced race-based hate due to the pandemic or live in communities that suffered an outsize number of Covid-related deaths.
  • Emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts in early 2021 were 51 percent higher for adolescent girls and 4 percent higher for adolescent boys than during the same period in 2019. 

A recurring theme in the report is the potential for social media to worsen youth sadness and depression. As you may have guessed from previous posts, I share Murthy’s concern about Americans’ ongoing, pandemic-induced migration deep into the digital world. That exact thought has worried me for nearly two years now, in fact. 

Check out this passage from the report about teenagers’ increased use of social media platforms and digital spaces:

​​Over the past two decades, more and more of our lives have moved onto social media platforms and other digital public spaces. The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated this trend. During the pandemic, the time teenagers spent in front of screens for activities not related to school more than doubled, from 3.8 to 7.7 hours per day.

Here’s how a lot of that time is spent: 

[W]hile technology platforms have improved our lives in important ways, increasing our ability to build new communities, deliver resources, and access information, we know that, for many people, they can also have adverse effects. When not deployed responsibly and safely, these tools can pit us against each other, reinforce negative behaviors like bullying and exclusion, and undermine the safe and supportive environments young people need and deserve.

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