Potential future surgeon general calls mental health a ‘national crisis’

Dr. Jerome Adams sounded a clarion call Monday to put an end to what he called a “national crisis” of youth mental health. “Never before in history have there been more children, adolescents and young adults struggling with mental illness,” Adams said, addressing the National Press Club. “The experiences and circumstances of growing up are complex and unique to each child, but too often they can be difficult or even paralyzing to deal with,” he said.

Adams cited recent studies that indicate the rate of suicide among those ages 10 to 24 is twice as high in that age group as it was in the 60s and 70s, while homicide rates are up 10 percent from the late 90s and suicide rates have increased 24 percent since 1995. “The truth is that no generation has ever had it so good. No generation has ever enjoyed an average of 40 more years of life than the generation before it. We have never had it so bad,” Adams said.

Adams, joined by a group of high school students from a rural New Mexico school and the director of suicide prevention efforts at the National Children’s Alliance, described a plan of action to address the crisis and update mental health coverage in the health care system.

The main focus of the plan, he said, is “healthy schools and healthy communities.” They proposed testing and implementing program tools to better identify and serve students at risk for suicide, changes to school discipline policies that recognize and support students coping with issues like mental illness and substance abuse, and investments in early childhood intervention. They also proposed linking state mental health systems to Medicaid mental health coverage to ensure that all children are covered for mental health services, and expressed the hope that this plan might make it possible for youth to access mental health care without paying out of pocket.

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