Health experts say COVID-19 has exacerbated mental health issues in youth.
But in a new one-hour ABC News primetime special anchored by “Good Morning America”‘s Robin Roberts, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said children have struggled with mental health long before the pandemic.
“The pandemic’s been more challenging for some children,” Murthy told ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton. “If we wanna address this, we’ve got to listen to kids.”
In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics found “soaring rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents, and their families over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Two months later, Murthy issued an advisory on the youth mental health crisis, emphasizing that mental health challenges are present among children and young adults.
To help young people heal, Murthy has been doing listening tours with youth across the country.
In the ABC News primetime special “24 Months That Changed the World,” Ashton sits down with Murthy and kids at Ida B. Wells Middle School. in Washington, D.C.
“I felt like that little kid in me disappeared and I started worrying about stress,” said Daylan Joya, a student at Ida B. Wells Middle School.
Added student Machi Brooks: “Don’t just treat us like, ‘Oh, you’re a child.’ Treat us like what we’ve been through is as equal to what you’ve been through.”
At a high school in Mason, Ohio, the Hope Squad was created to help students with their mental health.
“Tons of people needed help during the pandemic,” Kaya Rossey, a member of William Mason High School’s Hope Squad, told ABC News.
In one exercise, students role-played how to handle self-harming behavior when they spot it.
Dr. Alok Patel, a physician at Stanford Children’s Health and ABC News contributor, said a “silver lining” of the pandemic is that it’s opened the conversation on mental health.
“One silver lining that has come is the amount of discussion and awareness that has happened to talk about their own mental health struggles,” said Patel.
“24 Months That Changed the World” airs on a special edition of “20/20” on Wednesday, March 30, on ABC. It will air the next day on Hulu.