US surgeon general warns mental health is an epidemic for young people

In his first major address as surgeon general, Jerome Adams warned Friday that the mental health of young people is a growing problem.

“Today’s youth are becoming tomorrow’s burden of illness or, at best, a possible cause of death,” Adams said in the address delivered in D.C.’s Woodrow Wilson Center.

Adams said that the “creeping” rise in suicides among teenagers, including particularly high numbers of young females, “reminds us that it is time for an earnest national conversation on the increasing prevalence of mental health disorders in our youth.”

Adams singled out the 17 million Americans with major depressive disorder, a condition in which mental and emotional conditions become so severe that they become a barrier to daily life. In his address he touched on the issue of suicide and suicide prevention and said that initiatives at the Department of Health and Human Services and other government departments had helped increase access to help for people in need.

Adams, who was tapped to replace Vivek Murthy as surgeon general in February, outlined three priorities for his tenure: a jump-start on mental health services, educating the public about suicide prevention and improving the mental health delivery system.

“An incredible epidemic is taking place in this country,” he said, referring to the epidemic of opioid abuse and addiction in the U.S.

Adams described an epidemic of bullying and cyberbullying among young people. Bullying, he said, was eroding the self-esteem of those who are “good” and “average” in school. Bullying is also fueling the mental health crisis, he said, and a study had found that a third of kids suffering depression in a year would not seek help because they were embarrassed or ashamed to seek help.

In addition to the digital world, Adams said, access to opioids in rural areas was an issue and there were too few services available.

Depression, Adams said, “will become the biggest health care challenge of our time,” and added that mental health disorders cost the health care system $300 billion annually, and the problem was getting worse.

He noted that the United States spends more on health care, including mental health, than any other country, but said other countries invested more and put more resources into prevention and intervention measures.

In his address, Adams stressed the need for more training for medical and nursing students and noted that many medical students lack mental health expertise.

He ended the speech by offering advice for people suffering from depression, saying it was crucial to understand the condition.

“No one knows what it’s like to be depressed,” he said. “To treat it, know the signs. Once you know you’re depressed, seek help.”

Read the full speech.

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