Kids have a lot on their minds. Juggling school, family, and activities is hard enough. Add to this list a pandemic. It’s disrupting schedules. It’s causing uncertainty. That’s a recipe for a mental health crisis.
“When we feel stressed, we get together with friends,” United States surgeon general Vivek Murthy told TFK Kid Reporter Ronak Bhatt. They spoke over Zoom on January 5. “We talk to family members. We go visit people we love. Those things became harder, especially when kids weren’t in school last year.”
Ronak can relate. “The recent rise in Omicron cases is causing stress all over again,” he told Dr. Murthy. “Some schools, mine included, decided to go virtual.”
The surgeon general is the country’s top doctor. In December 2021, Dr. Murthy released an advisory on kids’ mental health. The report is meant to “call people’s attention to an urgent public health problem,” he says. “For a long time, even before COVID-19, young people have been struggling with their mental health.”
In It Together
Everyone can help protect kids’ mental health. The advisory urges communities to come together on this. “If we seize this moment, step up for our children and their families in their moment of need, and lead with inclusion, kindness, and respect,” Dr. Murthy writes in his introduction, “we can lay the foundation for a healthier, more resilient , and more fulfilled nation.”
Some groups have already begun to lay that foundation. In August 2021, the U.S. government announced nearly $85 million in funding. It’s for groups that provide mental health services for kids. They focus on things like raising awareness and making it easier for kids to get care.
“It’s a great first start,” Amy Knight told National Public Radio. She’s president of the Children’s Hospital Association. Dr. Warren Ng, of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry , added that the funding is “a step in the right direction.” But he noted that “more is definitely needed.”
TIME for Kids often hears from readers. Many have been dealing with tough emotions. Some report being nervous. Others say they’re lonely. “I struggle with anxiety,” a 14-year-old wrote. “The COVID pandemic has made me feel a lot of ways,” a 10-year-old wrote, “but mostly sad.”
“You can’t always tell from the outside whether somebody is doing well,” Dr. Murthy says. “It’s so important to check in on people.” The advisory lists ways that kids can help. Listening is one. Another is telling a friend in need that you’re there. “Asking for help is never a sign of weakness,” Dr. Murthy says. “It’s often a sign of strength.”
Ways to Feel Better
On sad days, it can be hard to think of ways to cheer yourself up. So it’s a good plan to have a bunch of feel-better ideas at the ready. TFK Kid Reporter Ronak Bhatt asked U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy for some tips. Read them below.
1. Pay attention to how you feel. “This might sound like an obvious one,” Dr. Murthy says. “But a lot of times, we can go for a long time feeling sad or worried or stressed and not recognize that.” Take a pause. Breathe. Check in with yourself. How are you feeling today?
2. Connect with people you love. Reaching out to friends and family can “make a huge difference,” Dr. Murthy says. You don’t have to discuss anything sad or serious. Just talking or spending time with others can improve your mood. It can help you feel connected.
3. Talk to a trusted adult. If you’re feeling down, Dr. Murthy suggests confiding in a trusted adult. This might be a family member. It could be a friend. Maybe it’s a teacher or a coach. “A lot of schools have counselors or school nurses you can check in with,” he adds.
4. Find sources of inspiration. Keep a list of things that make you feel good when you read, watch, or listen to them. “We all need a toolbox of things that we can reach for,” Dr. Murthy says. “Poems, songs, books, speeches—whatever it might be for you.”
5. Take care of your body. Eat well. Stay hydrated. Get good sleep. Fresh air helps. Exercise does, too. “I found that when I’m physically active, it actually lifts my mood,” Dr. Murthy says. “It also has the benefit of getting my mind off of some of the challenges I have.”
6. Help others. Dr. Murthy says that one of the best ways to fight sadness is through service. “When we help other people, not only do we strengthen our [connections],” he says, “we also remind ourselves that we have a lot of beauty and value and strength to add to the world.”