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The White House prepares to turn mental health awareness into action by partnering with MTV for the second annual Mental Health Action Day.

On Wednesday, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy hosted the inaugural Mental Health Youth Action Forum at the White House, where they were joined by Selena Gomez and 30 mental health activists and content creators. By sharing personal experiences with mental health and mental illness and introducing practical ways to be proactive about mental health, the group highlighted the Biden-Harris Administration’s priorities in addressing the nation’s mental health crisis. Dr. Murthy explained that there are two aspects to this task.

“We must work simultaneously to build awareness and drive action. Both are important because without awareness, without devaluing mental health, people won’t come forward and talk about it and they’ll worry about being there to advocate for it. So that’s why we have to continue this work,” the U.S. Surgeon General told Yahoo Life. “But there’s a lot happening in terms of action.”

Murthy went on to explain the administration’s priorities at the policy level, focusing on expanding access to mental health by training more mental health providers and removing barriers to effective telemedicine nationwide. He also spoke about the importance of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.

“This is a very important law because it ensures that the courts mandate that we must not discriminate in how we are reimbursed for mental health services,” he explained. “We have to treat it just like we treat physical health services.”

The young mental health advocate who sat alongside Biden and Murthy at the forum spoke about the prevalence of these issues by sharing that not everyone has a mental illness, but “we all have mental health. To address the issue, Murthy presented ideas about investing in prevention.

“We have to get more counselors in our schools to invest in programs that we know are community and school-based to reduce the likelihood of young people struggling with mental health issues afterwards. This is also a place where the president is pushing to invest in his budget,” Murty said. “These are actions that we’re taking at the policy level. But what you’re seeing today is very important because young people need to not only be more aware, but also take action in their communities. That will also have an impact. “

Youth leaders in attendance included Mahmoud Khedr, Jorge Alvarez and Juan Acosta – three young people whose intersectional identities are at the forefront of their advocacy efforts because of their lack of cultural competence in the field. Alvarez told Yahoo Life, “If you don’t have a community or you can’t find it, then build it.”

Murthy said these communities and connections could even address the rising suicide rate among young people.

“In our country, suicide is an incredibly painful crisis. People like me and many others have lost family members to suicide, and even though years have passed, the feeling is very personal,” he said. “The first thing we need to do is make sure that people don’t feel like they have to suffer in silence and shame if they do have suicidal thoughts.”

Murthy explained that the suicide rate among young people increased 57 percent in the decade leading up to the pandemic, and that the pandemic also exacerbated the mental health crisis among adolescents. “The first thing is to make sure people feel they can seek help,” he said. “Secondly, we have to make sure help is available. That’s what makes the peer support community so strong, because one of the biggest challenges in battling mental illness is the isolation that results.”

While mental health services and access to them are a work in progress, Murthy notes the power young people can create in their communities. “You don’t have to have a medical degree, a nursing degree or a mental health degree to be able to help be part of the solution and be able to help others recover. You just need to have the willingness and the compassion to reach out to your friends, to be there for them, to check in on them, to recognize that you can’t always judge from the outside whether people are doing well,” he says. “If we do that, if we all step up and do our part for the people in our lives, if we eliminate these struggles that many of us deal with but tend to keep quiet about, if at the same time, we’ll put policies in place to make sure that help is available when people need it, I think we can solve the mental health crisis, and I think that’s something we as a nation have an obligation to do.”


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