U.S. Surgeon General issues rare warning on looming youth mental health crisis in America

Thanks to collaborative and innovative community partnerships, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s The Opportunity Project has been mitigating the risk of mental health crises for Tulsa students for more than a year

TULSA, Oklahoma – We typically think of U.S. surgeon general's warnings as being reserved for national issues like the dangers of smoking, the AIDS epidemic or the opioid crisis. But this week, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued a rare advisory on an emerging youth mental health crisis for young people in America.

Recent national surveys have shown alarming increases in the prevalence of mental health challenges for youth. For example, in 2019, before the pandemic, one in three high school students and half of all female high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Since 2020, the instability caused by COVID-19, the unfathomable number of deaths from the disease, forced isolation, and pervasive feelings of fear and economic instability have only exacerbated unprecedented stress young people already felt at home, at school and in their communities.

Surgeon General Murthy outlined dozens of recommendations for Americans of all ages and in all sectors of society. The report highlighted action items for young people; families and caregivers; educators and school staff; employers; state, local and tribal governments; non-profits and community partners; and many others to mitigate the mental health crisis facing our youth. 

While the mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and incredibly widespread, the good news is they are treatable and preventable under the right conditions. The better news for Tulsa area families, caregivers, and young people is The Opportunity Project recognized the far-reaching implications the COVID-19 pandemic would have on young people’s mental health and began a collaborative community-wide effort early on to combat this crisis.

The Opp has worked with Tulsa’s non-profit organizations, philanthropic partners, community groups and faith-based organizations to mitigate stress and trauma among youth for more than a year. Among the surgeon general’s recommendations The Opp and their partners were already undertaking are:

  • Fostering public-private research partnerships.

  • Prioritizing data and research with at-risk youth populations.

  • Increasing timely data collection and research to identify and respond to youth mental health needs more rapidly.

  • Expanding social and emotional learning programs and other evidence-based approaches that promote healthy development.

  • Implementing evidence-based programs that promote healthy development, support children, youth, and families, and increase youth resilience. 

  • Supporting the mental health of children and youth in educational, community, and childcare settings.

  • Incentivizing coordination across grantees, fostering cross-sector partnerships to maximize reach, bring together diverse expertise. 

Along with Tulsa Public Schools, The Opp highlighted much of that work to stakeholders and partners in two separate data summits on December 7

and 9, 2021. 

First, read Surgeon General Murthy’s entire report, then learn how The Opportunity Project is helping young people mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 through collaborative community partnerships across Tulsa to make our community a true City of Learning.