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Overwhelming majority says the US faces a mental health crisis

0 2 years ago

Imagine a country where two kids in every classroom are experiencing debilitating illness, affecting their ability to concentrate and learn — and potentially threatening their lives. Americans likely would offer sympathy to such a country.

But there is no need to imagine: The U.S. is that place, and mental health problems are the pervasive illnesses that are deeply affecting children’s education, safety and futures.

The suicide rate in the U.S. is the highest among wealthy nations, and data suggest that 1 in 5 young women (and 1 in 10 young men) experience a clinical episode of major depression before age 25.

In December, the Office of the Surgeon General released an advisory detailing the youth mental health crisis in our country. I and my colleagues at the American Psychological Association provided input for this advisory. On Tuesday, I am slated to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on this calamity.

To address this crisis, we must acknowledge that our youth mental health system is fundamentally flawed. As noted in the surgeon general’s advisory, mental health issues among children and adolescents reflect children’s individual biopsychological abilities (or vulnerabilities) and the contexts in which kids are raised. This includes their homes, extended families, schools, communities and cultures — and the media (social and otherwise) to which they are exposed.

Our adult-centric mental health system was built following World War II — a time when we invested substantially in treating returning veterans. Significant funding built the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institute of Mental Health and trained psychologists in new psychology departments on college campuses nationwide. But this approach needs reexamining.

We must improve access to mental health care for children and youth. Suicide rates among children 10 and older have climbed significantly since 2007, now the second leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds, behind unintentional injuries. The stakes of untreated mental and behavioral health symptoms for children and adolescents are exceptionally high and can have profound consequences on the trajectory of a child’s life.

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