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New Public Health Advisory on Teen Mental Health - AdobeStock 250483818

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has issued a public health advisory on the mental health challenges facing young people. Murthy cites rising rates of depression, anxiety, and stress, which have all been exacerbated by the pandemic. (Los Angeles Times)

NH: Since the pandemic began, we have written several NewsWires on alarming indicators of teenagers’ worsening mental health. (See “Soaring Youth Demand for Mental Health Care” and “Surge in Teen Suicides?”) Now, these rising indicators are getting national attention. 

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has released a public health advisory on youth mental illness. The report cites the numerous studies we have covered and estimates that 25% of today's teenagers suffer from depression symptoms.

Why are teen depression indicators rising? The advisory offers numerous hypotheses. One theory, vigorously defended by San Diego State psychology professor Jean Twenge, points to the rise of social media and mobile phones. Others blame recent social stressors like the lousy economy, racial unrest, and the pandemic lockdown.

The report also suggests the possibility that the rise is artificial. Perhaps kids today are more likely to talk about their feelings than previous generations.

This is probably the most critical question to answer. And one way to look at this is through suicide rates since these aren't much influenced by perceptions. 

The CDC has just released new data on 2020 suicides by age bracket.

According to the provisional numbers, the suicide rate slightly increased in 2020 over 2019 for 10- to 14-year-olds and 15- to 24-year-olds. But these increases were not deemed statistically significant. Even the Surgeon General admits "early evidence does not show significant increases."

This suggests mental distress among youth, at least by this bottom-line measure, hasn't drastically changed much since the beginning of 2020. On the other hand, there was indeed a significant increase in youth suicides from 2007 to 2017.

These were late-wave Millennials, who hit adolescence in the wake of the GFC. And we can definitively say their mental health has worsened relative to earlier-born Millennials at the same age.

Following their recent rebound, youth suicide rates today are slightly higher than they were in the early 1990s--when late-wave Gen Xers filled this age bracket during the Kurt Cobain grunge rock era.

New Public Health Advisory on Teen Mental Health - Teen

The health advisory does offer several suggestions for dealing with the problem.

These recommendations include: hiring more school councilors, further research into the effects of social media, and increased mental health screenings by pediatricians. 

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.