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US Surgeon General says young people are facing a mental health crisis

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, left, and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, right, speak Wednesday in the mayor's office about a "crisis" of mental health issues among young people.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, left, and Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, right, speak Wednesday in the mayor's office about a "crisis" of mental health issues among young people.

The U.S. Surgeon General visited with students and healthcare providers in Cleveland today to learn more about what he called a “mental health crisis” among young people.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, joining Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb in a joint press conference Wednesday afternoon, said Cleveland students told them they were facing a lot of pressures that were negatively affecting their mental health. Bullying and the harmful effects of social media; transitioning back to in-person schooling after the pandemic-related school closures; and gun violence and other traumatic experiences that come from living in impoverished neighborhoods.

“One thing I was really struck by and something that the residents of Cleveland should be proud of, is that the young people in this city have a tremendous amount of insight into what they're experiencing, what's driving the mental health crisis," Vivek said. "They understand trauma. They understand how important it is to address it, but they can't do this on their own.”

Murthy noted gun violence is now the leading killer of children. He said the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed by Congress and the Biden administration last year will help fund community violence prevention programs, school mental health programs and help states establish red flag laws. But he said more must be done. That includes safe storage laws and more research into gun violence and its root causes and prevention strategies.

“We’ve got to take an all of the above approach here, because the truth is our children are dying because of gun violence and even those who are surviving are being traumatized," he said.

In terms of helping young people with their mental health in general, Murthy said more counselors are needed in schools, while a renewed effort is needed to help them address trauma they’ve experienced. Technology like telehealth appointments – which became more common during the pandemic – should also be utilized, he said.

Bibb said the city is also trying to help address Cleveland students’ mental health needs, with passage earlier this year of a new $3.7 million initiative to put three new health clinics in schools and expanded access in school buildings to telehealth appointments.

He said his administration is exploring how to build a “children’s cabinet” that will focus on issues facing young people in the city. Increased after-school activities to keep students occupied and thriving would be one goal of such a cabinet, Bibb said.

Bibb noted that the city is trying to lobby state government to get more funding for programs to support students’ social-emotional health. Meanwhile, the city, Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority are still working together in the aftermath of a student being shot and killed at John Adams High School earlier this year to improve several safety measures. In terms of the city and school district, that means improved camera access between schools and police, and with the RTA, that could mean syncing bus arrival and departure times to when school actually lets out.

“That’s something that’s never been done before,” Bibb noted.

CMSD CEO Eric Gordon has previously said students often wait upward of 50 minutes for public transit buses to come pick them up after school.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.