Kevin McCarthy Sounds Alarm on Youth 'Mental Health Crisis' in Push To Reopen Schools

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has called on President Joe Biden to reopen the nation's schools to help end what the Republican described as a "mental health crisis."

Republicans have criticized the Biden administration in recent weeks on the issue of school openings and taken aim at teachers' unions, arguing Democrats are more interested in pleasing unions than getting children back to school.

McCarthy and his colleagues favor a return to in-person teaching as soon as possible, but the administration says it's taking steps to make classrooms safe and reassure teachers, students and parents.

"I call on everyone—from the Biden Administration to the local school boards—to come together and help put an end to this mental health crisis affecting our children," McCarthy tweeted on Tuesday.

"The immediate solution is to work together to reopen every school in America now," he said.

McCarthy, who is the highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, expanded on the point in a statement attached to the tweet.

"In just 10 days, it will mark exactly one year since millions of K-12 students have attended in-person class. This has caused predictable and jarring setbacks to their academic development, and it has also caused emotional distress for kids, especially teenagers, that should call every adult in this country to action," he said.

Tuesday was World Teen Mental Wellness Day, as McCarthy's statement pointed out. He described mental health issues arising from school closures as "an existential threat."

I call on everyone—from the Biden Administration to the local school boards—to come together and help put an end to this mental health crisis affecting our children.

The immediate solution is to work together to reopen every school in America now. https://t.co/JAIQnUNOXa

— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) March 3, 2021

"We know the common link to the stark rise of mental health issues has been shut classrooms. Since school closures went into effect, hospitals have reported a significant increase in mental health emergencies among children as young as five years old."

McCarthy pointed to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that 63 percent of late teens and young adults surveyed "reported symptoms of anxiety or depression," while 25 percent reported increased substance use to deal with stress.

"We cannot abandon an entire generation. Now is the time to reopen schools and get struggling students back on track and back to health, and that is what House Republicans remain committed to fighting for," McCarthy said.

Congressman Steve Scalise, the second highest-ranking Republican in the House, made a similar point in a tweet on Tuesday. He shared an article from Axiosshowing that teenagers' demand for mental health services doubled last spring as the country coped with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"How many more stories like this does Biden need to see before he stops siding with the unions and starts following the science so students can get back in classrooms and stop suffering?" Scalise said.

Biden addressed the issue of schools opening on Tuesday, highlighting his aim to have most schools open within the first 100 days of his administration and the efforts the administration has made.

"Let me be clear: We can reopen schools if the right steps are taken, even before employees are vaccinated. But time and again, we've heard from educators and parents that they have anxieties about that," Biden said.

"So as yet another move to help accelerate the safe reopening of our schools, let's treat in-person learning like an essential service that it is. And that means getting essential workers who provide that service—educators, school staff, childcare workers—get them vaccinated immediately. They're essential workers," he said.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks during his weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol on February 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. McCarthy is pushing for schools to reopen to help tackle youth mental health issues. Mark Wilson/Getty Images