Our Response to the Surgeon General’s Advisory on Youth Mental Health

On December 7, 2021, the U.S Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a new Surgeon General’s advisory.  These statements are used to bring the public’s attention to an urgent health issue and provides guidance on how the issue should be addressed.  Typically, these advisories are issued regarding physical health topics such as obesity, diabetes, or vaccine safety.  It was no surprise to the team at Clarity Child Guidance Center (Clarity CGC) that this advisory focused on protecting youth mental health.

When the pandemic first hit in March 2020, Clarity CGC experienced a decreased demand for services.  Everyone was staying at home and hesitant to come into a hospital setting where they would be exposed to staff and other kiddos seeking treatment.  In early summer 2020 this trend reversed, and we began to experience an increased demand for services, which has only continued to grow.

increase in inpatient hospitalizations

Over the last two years, Clarity CGC has experienced a 27% increase in admissions to the inpatient hospital.  We have also seen an 8% increase in the average number of children admitted on any given day.   There has also been a 19% increase in treatment those children at risk for suicide.

Anecdotally, our team is seeing a lot more kids with depression and anxiety.  The anxiety disorders are spread between social anxiety of returning to school, anxiety related to school performance, and anxiety related to the pandemic at large.

increase in first time patients

We have seen a 65% increase in patients admitted to the inpatient units that do not have any recent treatment history at Clarity CGC.  Kids that previously were not at risk of developing a mental health issue are needing treatment.

In our internal discussions, this has largely been attributed to the impact of remote learning.  High achieving kids are struggling with the impact of being behind academically.  Kids that were struggling academically pre-pandemic are even more behind. This is without adding in the complications to social development the last two years have thrown in.

Think about this year’s 2nd grader.  They were pulled out of school in the middle of kindergarten and spent a part of three school years learning remotely.  We have plunked them back in school and are expecting them to act like a 2nd grader.  How much informal learning about peer interaction, taking turns, lining up (and much more), did they miss?  The same could be said for any jump of two academic years.

increase in crisis needs

In April 2020, Clarity CGC opened four Psychiatric Emergency Services Beds.  The program is designed to provide immediate intervention in a crisis and hopefully avoid a hospitalization.  A psychiatric evaluation and family therapy services are offered with the Crisis Services Department, and the child can stay up to 48 hours.   That program has experienced a 159% increase in utilization over the last 12 months.

how to address the youth mental health crisis

What can we do to help reverse this crisis? First and foremost, if you are a parent talk to your children about this topic.  Not bringing it up doesn’t mean your kids or one of their peers aren’t potentially struggling.  If they won’t talk to you (potentially all teenagers), find another trusted adult or a professional therapist to step in.

I also highly recommend that you to read the Surgeon General’s advisory to explore the roles everyone in the community can play. Only together can we keep the challenges our kids are facing from getting worse.  Continue to take care of yourself and each other and remember: Listen, Learn Something, Have Fun and BE KIND!

  • Jessica Knudsen, LCSW, is a daughter, sister, wife, mom of twin 4-year olds, and the President and CEO of Clarity Child Guidance Center since February 2019. She was selected by Clarity CGC’s board of directors after a nationwide search. She comes to Clarity CGC from Holly Hill Hospital, one of North Carolina’s leading psychiatric and addiction treatment facilities for children and adults, where she acted in a dual role as the chief operating officer and director of risk management and performance improvement. Knudsen received her masters of science in social work from University of Texas at Austin and her BS in psychology from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to joining the Holly Hill team, she held roles in therapy and directorial positions at other behavioral health facilities.

The opinions, representations and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of One in Five Minds or Clarity Child Guidance Center. Any copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. One in Five Minds and Clarity Child Guidance Center accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

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I want to support the kids at clarity!