The office of the U.S. Surgeon General is focused on the most pressing public health issues. Reports, advisories and other publications from the Surgeon General are comprehensive scientific documents that are widely respected for their approach to addressing our most urgent public health issues. Advisories and statements from the office of the Surgeon General are often landmark publications that can identify and shape public health across the nation.

Public health has often been limited to physical health. Advisories about disease prevention, opioid use, smoking, breastfeeding and more have shaped public perception and addressed many of our nation’s health crises.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the current U.S. Surgeon General, has also focused on the mental health crises across the nation. His reports have focused on youth mental health, the impact of loneliness and social isolation, and more.

This week, Dr. Murthy spoke out about another issue of public health: the impact of social media on mental health.

In an editorial for The New York Times titled “Why I’m Calling for a Warning Label on Social Media Platforms,” Dr. Murthy writes: “The mental health crisis among young people is an emergency — and social media has emerged as an important contributor.”

He cites research that says that adolescents who spend more than three hours a day on social media face double the risk of anxiety and depression. The average daily use for adolescents? 4.8 hours.

His suggestion is to require a surgeon general’s warning label on social media platforms, much like we have on cigarettes and alcohol. He wants a statement that says that social media is associated with significant mental health harms for adolescents.

The Surgeon General does not unilaterally make decisions about warning labels, which require Congress to act. But he urges Congress to do so, claiming that a surgeon general’s warning label would regularly remind both teens and adults that social media has not been proved safe.

The warning label alone is not enough, and in his 2023 advisory, Social Media and Youth Mental Health, he lists recommendations for increasing safety and mental health for youth regarding social media, including measures to limit exposure to violence and sensitive material, data protection, use in schools, sleep and social connection.

There’s no easy solution to helping adolescents navigate the digital world, and the work requires adults to stay up to date with information, connect with others navigating the same challenges and encourage open dialogue with young people.

Want to learn more about children and screen time? Consider these resources.

Learn more about the effect of cell phones on dopamine in the brain.

Download our free workbook, Your Brain on Tech, designed for teens to help them understand more about what is happening in their brain while they’re engaged with technology.

Download our free lesson plan, MyPhone Challenge, which guides students through a discussion about smart phone use.

Download our free Mental Health Toolkit which covers essential mental health information and strategies to support your mental health.

Join us for the 2024 Changing the Odds conference, where Dr. Devorah Heitner, author of Screenwise and Growing Up in Public will talk about the impact of technology on mental health.

And for mental health services for children and families in the Dallas area, visit the Momentous Institute website to learn more about our mental health programming.

Share with

Momentous Institute Logo

Stay updated

Stay in the loop on upcoming events and latest resources.

© 2023 Momentous Institute. All rights reserved.