Murthy vows to focus on mental health effects of pandemic if confirmed as surgeon general

Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy

Vivek Murthy, President Biden’s pick for surgeon general, vowed to focus on the mental health aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic if confirmed.

During an interview with “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday, Murthy said the U.S. is facing a “deeply concerning” increase in mental illness during the pandemic, including among children.

Murthy said he would push for increased insurance for mental health care, and to integrate mental health care into primary care.

“We know a lot of what we need to do, we just aren’t doing it. We have for example, programs that we could be investing in schools to help provide mental health counseling to kids to detect symptoms of mental illness early. We can train more mental health providers,” Murthy said.

The pandemic has forced Americans and people across the globe to social distance, remaining inside their homes for long periods of time without much social contact. The pandemic has also killed more than 500,000 people in the U.S. and sickened millions, factors that also play a roll in the negative toll the pandemic has taken on Americans’ mental health. 

Murthy told CBS that it was important to understand how the pandemic will impact young people.

“I think that we will be learning over the years ahead just how deeply this pandemic has affected our children,” Murthy said. “We’ve got to study what’s happening to our kids so that we can build the right strategies to ultimately address the fallout that the pandemic has created for our children.”

According to an analysis from Mental Health America, 315,220 people participated in screenings for anxiety between January and September of 2020, a 93 percent increase from the total anxiety screenings in 2019. More than 530,000 took depression screens, up 62 percent over the 2019 total number.

Meanwhile, the proportion of youth aged 11-17 who accessed screening was 9 percent higher than it was in 2019, according to the nonprofit.

The vow from Murthy comes after the Senate held his confirmation hearing last week where he was questioned by Sen. Mike Braun (R-ind.) about concerns that he would go after guns after past remarks that gun violence in America is a public health issue. 

Murthy told Braun that while he wants government attention to the problem, “my focus is not on this issue, and if I’m confirmed it will be on COVID, on mental health and substance use disorder,” according to The Associated Press.

Updated at 11:07 a.m.

Tags CBS CBS This Morning Coronavirus COVID-19 Joe Biden Mental health Mike Braun Vivek Murthy

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