The Covid-19 pandemic has only made matters worse for the mental health of children, and a report from the US surgeon general released earlier this month stresses that every segment of society surrounding young people needs to pay attention to children’s mental health.
The full report is available from the Health and Human Services website and from ours. Surgeon General Vivek H Murthy, MD, MBA, writes this:
“We also have to recognize that kids increasingly are experiencing bullying, not just in school but online, that they’re growing up in a popular culture and a media culture that reminds kids often that they aren’t good-looking enough, thin enough, popular enough, rich enough, frankly, just not enough,” NPR quoted the report as saying.
I encourage all stakeholders to read this thorough report, but while the call to schools and school districts is clear—Dr Murthy advises supportive adults to ensure that every child has access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally competent mental health care, which almost automatically demands an expansion of the school-based mental health workforce—my focus here on this site is on journalism. Dr Murthy also has some advice for journalists.
For one thing, journalists should attempt to normalize rather than stigmatize mental health issues in youth. They should know that language matters and the words they choose have a potential positive or negative effect on people reading their stories. For example, instead of focusing on the disease by calling someone “schizophrenic,” they can refer to them as “people living with schizophrenia.”
But most important, from my perspective, journalists need to ensure that their stories point to paths to making a positive difference. An example might be to keep readers informed that they can make donations to support victims of natural disasters or to show that help is available for people who are suffering from mental illness.