Surgeon General Issues Advisory on Youth Mental Health Crisis, Highlights Importance of Medicaid and CHIP Coverage and Calls for More Action

This week, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an Advisory highlighting the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis.

As discussed here on Say Ahhh!, the pandemic has taken an unprecedented toll on the mental health and wellbeing of children, exacerbating long standing gaps in mental health care for children in the United States. Acknowledging this worsening crisis, in October, national children’s provider groups declared a state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health and the White House released a fact sheet on improving access and care for youth mental health and substance use conditions.

This latest action from the U.S. Surgeon General reiterates the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of America’s youth and families. As noted by the Surgeon General, these types of advisories are a public statement that calls the American people’s attention to an urgent public health issue, reserved for significant public health challenges that need the nation’s immediate awareness and action. In addition to calling attention to this urgent issue, the Advisory also provides recommendations that individuals, families, community organizations, technology companies, governments, and others can take to improve the mental health of children, adolescents and young adults.

As part of its full recommendations, the Advisory notes the importance of enrolling and retaining eligible children in health programs such as Medicaid and CHIP so that children have coverage that includes behavioral health services. The Advisory highlights outreach resources from the Connecting Kids to Coverage National Campaign, for schools, providers, and community-based organizations that can be used to encourage parents and caregivers to enroll children in Medicaid and CHIP in order to access important mental health benefits.

Ensuring eligible children retain Medicaid coverage will be especially important as states and stakeholders plan for the end of the public health emergency and the Medicaid continuous coverage requirement. To learn more about the Medicaid continuous coverage requirement and the unwinding, you can read more from my colleague, Tricia Brooks. In addition, mandatory continuous coverage – which under the Build Back Better Act would ensure all children in Medicaid and CHIP could maintain coverage for 12 months no matter where they live or whether or not their family experiences minor or temporary income fluctuations – would also help close coverage gaps for kids.

Coverage is an essential component of addressing youth mental health needs, however, much more must be done. In addition to emphasizing the importance of coverage, the Advisory also makes a number of recommendations related to improving youth mental health across eleven sectors – including young people and their families, educators and schools, governments, and media and technology companies. The topline recommendations from the Advisory announcement include:

  • Recognizing that mental health is an essential part of overall health.
  • Empowering youth and their families to recognize, manage, and learn from difficult emotions.
  • Ensuring that every child has access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care.
  • Supporting the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings and expanding and supporting the early childhood and education workforce.
  • Addressing the economic and social barriers that contribute to poor mental health for young people, families, and caregivers.
  • Increasing timely data collection and research to identify and respond to youth mental health needs more rapidly including more research on the relationship between technology and youth mental health, and technology companies being more transparent with data and algorithmic processes to enable such research.

You can find the Surgeon General’s full report and recommendations on protecting youth mental health here.

Anne Dwyer is an Associate Research Professor at the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy’s Center for Children and Families.