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U.S. Surgeon-General Declares Children’s Mental Health a National Crisis

The U.S. surgeon general did not mince words. “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real, and they are widespread. But most importantly, they are treatable, and often preventable,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy wrote in a 53-page advisory published on December 7.

In the past year, suicide attempts rose 51 percent across the nation for adolescent girls, while 25 percent of youth experienced depression, and 20 percent suffered from anxiety. The report makes clear that it’s not just the pandemic impacting our youth, it’s also the increase in gun violence, fears of global warming, the deep political divisions, and racial justice issues that have profoundly impacted the mental health of young Americans. The report documents that the demand for mental health services has seriously strained the capacity of providers to respond to the crisis.

Youth Crossroads counseling staff and interns have seen a dramatic increase in high school and middle school students wanting to access mental health services. “We are seeing an extraordinary number of young people in our service area who are suffering from serious mental health challenges beyond the typical stress, anxiety and depression we normally see,” said Michael Desideri, Director of Counseling Services at Youth Crossroads. “A lot of the teens have no semblance of a normal life. They are lonely, they’ve lost emotional intimacy, they lack motivation, and have little to hope for their future. We see an increase in substance abuse, violent behaviors, and suicidal thoughts, and more than 40 percent of the students we surveyed show serious signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Michelle said.

Even worse still is the fact that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. “YC Counselors are currently working in 7 local school buildings, and we currently have wait lists for students needing services at 4 of them. Additionally, we currently do not have YC Counselors at Unity Junior High in Cicero, the largest middle school in the state. The mental health needs of so many students are not being met. And we are not the only ones seeing this. Many other mental health providers in the area also have six month or longer waiting lists. Youth and their families need help now,” Michelle said.