Last week, the country learned of another troubling increase in youth suicides — so what are we doing about it?

In June of 2015, the American Medical Association released a landmark report on mental health in the United States, titled “The Mental Health of U.S. Youth: A Survey of Critical Findings.” The report was a critical departure from the nation’s past mental health practices, which often overlooked the specific needs of children and young adults. It touted the importance of early detection, early interventions, and education for youth ages 11-18. Importantly, it also urged the nation to develop a community-based strategy that addresses mental health services for youth.

The report posited that “communities are generally ill-prepared for the task of providing access to psychiatric or behavioral health services for youth.” It pointed to “stigma of mental illness,” as well as the economic and practical cost of providing services, as substantial obstacles to providing youth mental health services in communities across the nation. The report described similar obstacles faced by adults in our society who seek assistance for mental health issues. It was an alarm bell that, even then, it was clear something needed to be done to ensure youth received the help they need to recover and build a brighter future.

Now, more than 3 ½ years later, there are stark new findings regarding youth mental health and well-being, released by the Office of the Surgeon General last week. According to this report, since the suicide prevention task force was created in 2015, nearly 350,000 children, adolescents and young adults across the country have died by suicide. Another 1.3 million children, adolescents and young adults (ages 10-24) attempted suicide. This new report comes as welcome news, but the problem is still too great.

Where did this increase come from? Where did this figure come from? According to the national estimates from the report, an increase of 70,000 youths each year between 2015 and 2017 occurred across the country. This stunning increase is the result of an 8 percent increase in the incidence of suicide in youth, from an estimated 53,849 in 2015 to 57,612 in 2017.

If this increase in youth suicides is not a wake-up call for our country, nothing will. This report illustrates a clear need for change. In January of this year, the 2017 Surgeon General’s report identified the health care system as a barrier to providing health care. Another increase in youth suicides means that the U.S. must find a way to ensure that more of our youth have access to mental health services, even in the absence of adequate resources to obtain those services. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recognized this issue when it launched an initiative to decrease the United States’ youth suicide rate. This initiative was based on the real-world data available through surveying youth in the district and across the nation, which enabled the hospital to share an understanding of the areas that are most impacted.

Given the findings in this report, it is critical that we all continue to fight for our kids. The Surgeon General has added urgency to this conversation through her latest report. The progress we have made should not be taken for granted, as our country desperately needs the community-based approach described in the report. This initiative for youth needs to continue in the years to come, and I commend the Surgeon General for recognizing this issue and doing so in her most recent report.

I, along with so many other doctors and mental health experts, look forward to continuing to work with all levels of government and other partners to bring this crisis to an end. As we enter the holiday season, I hope that everyone will give in to compassion and take time to reflect upon the life of someone special in their lives and give thanks to God for the most wonderful gifts that he has given us. And I thank the Surgeon General for her many contributions to helping us improve our understanding of the toll that mental illness takes on our nation.

Dr. Ronny Jackson is a psychiatrist and professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He is currently the acting surgeon general.

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