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U.S. Surgeon General issues advisory on youth mental health crisis

The issuing of an advisory means youth mental health is a "significant public health challenge" that needs immediate attention.

PORTLAND, Ore. — This week the U.S. Surgeon General issued a rare advisory, calling the status of youth mental health a crisis made worse by the pandemic.

The issuing of an advisory means youth mental health is a "significant public health challenge" that needs immediate attention.

The advisory says more than 140,000 children in the U.S. lost a parent or grandparent caregiver to COVID-19. In addition, emergency room visits for suicide attempts were up 51% for adolescent girls compared to 2019.

Dan Rothenberg is a licensed therapist who works with teens and young adults. He said the last couple years have been especially rough on kids.

“I've noticed, particularly with teenagers, there really is a mental health crisis,” said Rothenberg.

Last school year, he said he noticed students lacked motivation as they did online learning.

“Now we're all catching up and so with that has come a lot of anxiety, a lot of a lot of depression,” he said. 

Teachers and school psychologists have reported the same thing. The anxiety is showing up through classroom disruptions to full on fights on campus.

Dr. Sara Polley is the medical director of the Continuum for Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, an organization that is dedicated to addressing mental health and substance abuse issues. Polley is a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

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“This is something that has started for young people even prior to the pandemic and I think there's a lot of different factors that have influenced why young people are struggling more,” said Polley.

Some say the increased depression and anxiety might be linked to societal factors, climate change, racism or even anxiety related to social media. The pandemic adds more stress.

“As a society, our infrastructure of the mental health business has not kept up with the need of increasing anxiety,” Rothenberg said.

Polley agrees and school psychologists have said they are understaffed, making it difficult to meet students' needs.

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“The National Association of School Psychologists has a recommendation of one school psychologist per 500 students,” said Karley Strouse, president-elect of the Oregon School Psychologists Association. Strouse is also a school psychologist for Salem-Keizer Public Schools.

“In Oregon, most school districts are double or triple or even more of that recommendation, and Salem-Keizer, we're hovering about one to 3,500 students for our ratio,” Strouse said.

“There's a huge shortage of people who are qualified to work with children and adolescents and families that are struggling with mental illness,” said Polley.

Both Polley and Rothenberg agree that the Surgeon General's advisory is a call to action, highlighting a need for more resources and funding dedicated to addressing mental health issues for youth.


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