U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on Thursday said youth mental health is "the defining public health issue of our time."
In his testimony before a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions panel, Murthy warned that loneliness and isolation as well as exposure to potentially harmful content on social media are impacting youth development and leading to increased feelings of depression and self-harm.
He told lawmakers he is in favor of a Surgeon General's warning label on social media sites — like what's on a pack of cigarettes — warning of the mental health impact of these sites. But an inclusion of such a label would require some form of congressional authority.
"The bottom line is: Our kids can't afford to wait longer for us to address the youth mental health crisis," he told the panel. "We have to expand our efforts to ensure every child has access to high quality, affordable, culturally competent mental health care."
In an advisory issued in May, Murthy indicated more research still needs to be conducted to understand the scale of social media's impact on youth mental health.
He also worries an increase in loneliness could lead to broader issues, such as stalling future economic growth.
For now, Murthy is encouraging parents and teachers to create stronger support systems to make it easier for kids to speak up if they are struggling.
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