Dec. 23, 2021 6:30 am

Youth mental health is a crisis. We need radical prevention

Timed with the release of a new report by the U.S. Surgeon General, two foundation executives call for out-of-the-box thinking.

A new U.S. Surgeon General's report addresses youth mental health.

(Photo by Rodnae via Pexels)

This is a guest commentary.

We want to thank the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy, for paying attention to the significant issue of children’s mental health in this country, with the release of a new report.

We completely agree this is a concern for everyone and appreciate the targeted recommendations across different populations and settings. We agree:

“Everyone has a role to play in combating this mental health pandemic. Without individual engagement, no amount of energy or resources can overcome the biggest barrier to mental health care: the stigma associated with seeking help. For too long, mental and emotional health has been considered, at best, the absence of disease, and at worst, a shame to be hidden and ignored.”

Given the unprecedented level of need, we really have to ask ourselves: how are we going to behave differently? We certainly cannot treat ourselves out of this problem. We do not have enough trained mental health clinicians. And, even if we did, people often to not want to access care.

We need to invest in universal prevention and health promotion strategies in a way we have never seen before. Mental health check-ups need to be integrated in primary care pediatric visits and revisited throughout our children’s lives. We know that adolescence is a time where we see significant increases in mental health diagnoses, but what do we do to intervene? We often wait for there to be a crisis and then ask ourselves, why didn’t we do something earlier?

We never fully executed the transition away from institutionalized care to community mental health and we now have people with serious mental health living on the streets and being treated in our criminal justice system. We also cannot ignore the disproportionate impact mental health has on people of color ranging from issues of access to effective treatment.

We need to think outside of the box at novel policy, program, and funding strategies.

For instance, what impact would increased minimum wage, guaranteed basic income, paid parental leave for men and women, and universal quality pre-k have on our mental health?

Thus, we cannot ignore the significant impact of social determinants on our mental health. Here in Philadelphia, we are seeing first-hand the devastating impact of gun violence on our communities. We must ask ourselves, is our current strategy working? It’s clear to say it is not.

From our Partners

So, we ask you to join us in prioritizing our children’s mental health as a priority here in Philadelphia that requires care and attention. If not, we will face continued increases in youth suicide and a devastating impact on our kids’ lives. As parents, we refuse to let this be the status quo and hope you join me in action and say enough is enough, we can and will do better.


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