U.S. Surgeon General focuses on ‘invisible wounds’ caused by anxiety in Wilmington visit

State officials alongside U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy at The Warehouse in Wilmington, Delaware. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

State officials alongside U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy at The Warehouse in Wilmington, Delaware. (Johnny Perez-Gonzalez/WHYY)

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy got some insight on what is and isn’t working for health care in Delaware during a meeting on Tuesday with young leaders and health care professionals in Wilmington.

The closed-door discussion at The Warehouse, a community center for Wilmington teens, also included input from doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators, as well as U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester.

Throughout Murthy’s tenure in office, two concerns have been dominant: COVID-19 and mental health and well-being. He said the two are intrinsically linked, calling anxiety, stress, depression, and isolation the “invisible wounds.”

The pandemic’s toll on mental health has been especially hard on young people and healthcare professionals. The pandemic has had “a huge impact on the healthcare workforce in terms of burnout, anxiety, and challenges,” Coons said. “How are we doing in handling public health challenges as we are coming out of this pandemic? How are we doing and improving access to care and the quality of care here in Delaware… and how are the results of these issues impacting communities.”

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic. The number of suicides has also soared compared to the decade before the pandemic.

“We have record numbers of young people who are struggling in the sense of loneliness and isolation,” Murthy said. “Today’s conversations highlight the need to confront the longstanding drivers of burnout among our health workers and those who care for our families, and this will continue to be a top priority for me.”

Despite feeling a bit intimidated during Murthy’s visit, Aliyah Patterson, a 17-year-old second vice president of The Warehouse’s executive committee, said she was still happy to be there because she wants to see change for both her generation and the 12 students she mentors to help them deal with their mental health.

“I have to be there for them,” she said. ”One thing that’s very prominent in a lot of the teens that I encounter here at The Warehouse is anxiety.”

Dominique Turner, a critical care nurse who participated in the roundtable, shared her experiences working in healthcare. She said although mental health problems existed prior to the pandemic, the impact of the pandemic made the problem significantly worse.

“Self-care is more than a hashtag,” she said, encouraging those in the medical field to take care of their own well-being. “Take care of yourself first because without taking care of yourself first, you can’t take care of other people.”

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