A panel of U.S. surgeons general is warning that the country’s worsening mental health crisis could come to undermine democracy.
The seven current and former surgeons general met Thursday at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to discuss the mental health crisis.
Dr. Vivek Murthy, who currently holds the office, said the problem partly stems from loneliness and a lack of community.
“People who struggle with loneliness and isolation, their risk of mental illness goes up – of depression, of anxiety, of suicide,” he was quoted as saying by New Hampshire Public Radio. “But the surprising thing is their risk of physical ailments go up, too, with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease by 29%, 50% increase in the risk of dementia among older people.”
Murthy said it should be a “national priority” to build stronger communities.
The panel also touched on substance abuse and unique issues facing young people and veterans.
Dr. Richard Carmona, who was Surgeon General under former President George W. Bush, recalled becoming aware of the nation’s crumbling mental health system while trying to get his adult son treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Carmona drew the connection between deeply partisan politics and health.
“The most important thing that we need to deal with today, notwithstanding mental health, is make sure we preserve our democracy, because it’s being tested right now,” he said. “We as surgeons general always have to understand the extraordinary privilege we have to be truth tellers. Often the challenge for us is telling inconvenient truths to politicians.”
Whether they served under Republican or Democratic presidents, each agreed the crisis has affected American society as a whole.
“In order to eliminate disparities in health we need leaders who care enough, leaders who know enough, and leaders who will do enough and who are persistent enough until the job is done,” said former Surgeon Ggeneral David Satcher, who served under ex-President Bill Clinton.
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