On Tuesday, June 7, 2022, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra participated in two roundtables at Montebello High School in Montebello, CA with students and parents covering the impact of social media on youth mental health. Additionally, the group discussed immigration, the upcoming transition to the 988 National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and the importance of language access in mental health resources. Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-CA 29), Congressman Jimmy Gomez (D-CA 34), City of Montebello Mayor Kimberly Ann Cobos-Cawthorne, Los Angeles County Director of Mental Health Dr. Jonathan Sherin, and Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Debra Duardo, also participated in the discussion.
Secretary Becerra delivered opening remarks in both English and Spanish and heard first-hand accounts from students, parents, and additional stakeholders on the work Los Angeles County is doing to address the youth mental health crisis. Congressman Tony Cardenas spoke about losing a friend to suicide in high school. A student remarked, “I hope you do something great with 988,” adding “it’s hard for us to know where to turn.”
Students and parents discussed how social media platforms can promote unhealthy social comparisons and enable harassment, stalking, and cyber bullying. As stated in the U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory on protecting youth mental health from 2021, there is a wide range of causes for the national youth mental health crisis but there is mounting evidence that social media is harmful to many kids’ and teens’ mental health, well-being, and development.
Students asked policymakers present to do what they can to make social media platforms safer for young people. The students seek forums to discuss mental health and social media further; many had experienced first-hand the “addictive” nature of social media and look for tools to better manage their use.
Secretary Becerra highlighted the Biden-Harris Administration’s historic investments in mental health, evidenced by his budget which clearly prioritizes funding programs to address the mental health challenges we are facing. Recently, HHS announced a $2 Million Funding Opportunity to Establish National Center of Excellence on Social Media and Mental Wellness. The purpose of the Center of Excellence will be to develop and disseminate information, guidance, and training on the impact—including benefits and risks—that social media use has on children and youth, especially related to their mental health.
Secretary Becerra committed to continue to listen to youth and parent voices as the Biden-Harris Administration develops further action on social media safety. Today’s event is part of HHS’s National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health, an initiative launched following the President’s State of the Union speech in March focused on addressing the mental health challenges that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including substance use, youth mental health, and suicide.