With the school year fast approaching, many parents are sending their children back to school or college full-time for the first time since the pandemic, and with that comes a lot of anticipation about how these kids will make the transition. Youth mental health issues were on the rise before the pandemic, but since Covid forced many children to isolate and adapt to the challenges of distant learning, children, teens, and young adults alike have experienced increased anxiety, depression, trauma, and other disorders including suicide.
Many parents faced with the choice of prioritizing work or their child’s health are choosing to leave jobs that don’t allow for taking time to care for their families. As a result, employers are beginning to realize that helping their employees cope with these challenges is critical to retaining and attracting a strong workforce. Like other aspects of employee mental health, supporting parents of children in need is not a simple task and can be a tough issue for employers to address for many reasons.
How employers can help their employees by supporting children’s mental health:
Support the parent
- Communicate about available benefits
- Destigmatize asking for help
- Normalize discussing mental health
Support the child
- Partner with providers who focus on family mental health
- Help connect to support they already have
There’s no question that the past few years have been tough on children, teens, and young adults. The forced isolation of lockdowns, social unrest, and fears of continued school violence have added significant stressors to today’s youth. This has led to increased emergency room visits for many conditions, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, & suicide, and a true mental health crisis. In April, pediatricians and adolescent psychologists in Rhode Island declared a state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health.
In July, acting on his commitment to addressing youth mental health, the Biden administration announced new actions to support youth mental health, including funding to increase mental health services and education in schools and assist the training of more qualified pediatric mental health specialists. But as much as this may help, there is a serious shortage of qualified professionals, especially in rural and other underserved populations.
Faced with this crisis, parents are struggling to balance the extra time it may take to care for their children with the time they need to spend at work. Many employees fear the effects of their child’s mental health on their own careers. In a 2022 report by child mental health advocacy group, “On Our Sleeves,” which surveyed over 5,000 working parents about issues relating to children’s mental health, investigators found the following issues:
- A majority of working parents and caregivers said their work is affected by their children’s mental health and behavior.
- A meaningful portion of working parents and caregivers are significantly disrupted, including feelings of stress, distraction and even hopelessness.
- Half of those parents who need help the most are afraid of losing their jobs or facing other negative consequences if these concerns interfered with their work.
—The Great Collide: The Impact of Children’s Mental Health on the Workforce, (2022 report published by On Our Sleeves)
Given this challenge facing today’s workforce, what can employers do to mitigate the strain on their employees? Despite the challenges facing many children and young people and the limited access to quality mental health services, employers can play an important role. Not only can they help address the crisis at hand, but this crisis can also provide companies with an opportunity to increase trust with their employees and foster the type of workplace culture that can attract and retain top talent.
Support the Parent
Communicate about available benefits
It is vital for companies to take the lead on communicating their support for their employees’ mental health, especially when it comes to supporting employees’ families. Make sure that employees are aware of the services available for their children as they head back to classrooms and campuses. This is especially true for remote workers, as they may have fewer opportunities to share experiences with coworkers or talk about available benefits.
Destigmatize asking for help
Company statements about supporting family health will only mean something to employees when they feel safe speaking up about needing help. As the On Our Sleeves survey reported, there may be significant fear around discussing family issues. Make sure that employees’ fears around taking time off are addressed. If supporting your employees’ families is a value you want to promote, it must be evident in the culture of your workplace. Managers can play a key role here by ensuring that team members feel safe expressing needs concerning their families.
Normalize discussing mental health
Normalizing conversations about the mental health of employees and their families is another step employers can take. Several EAPs and mental health service companies are already taking the lead on this. Mental healthcare provider Modern Health, which provides consulting on ways businesses can promote mental health in the workplace, recently launched Modern Health “Circles,” which are virtual group discussions on various topics affecting workplace culture. This can do a great deal to break down the resistance around topics like biases in the workplace and the need for mental health services. Around 40% of today’s workforce are parents and the chance to connect about children’s mental health can help break down barriers to accessing care.
Support the Child
Partner with providers who focus on family mental health
Connecting to youth mental service providers in the local area where a business operates can be challenging, even in well-served areas. Waitlists for traditional in-person providers are often weeks or even months long. Many companies are turning to telemedicine options, which are available in many states. Research suggests digital mental health therapies can be effective for improving depression, anxiety, and psychological well-being. Here are a few that have specific programs to support children, teens, and young adults:
Mental health provider offering family-based care for children from age 2 through young adult, as well as adult family members. They have a network of more than 3,900 evidence-based providers specializing in child and teen mental health.
Mental health care for children from ages 18 months – 17 years old. Provides care from coaches, therapists, psychiatrists, and speech therapists, and offers plans for businesses.
Charlie Health: https://www.charliehealth.com/
Offers virtual intensive outpatient care (IOP) for teens and young adults who need more than weekly therapeutic support. They provide peer support groups, family therapy, and traditional 1:1 therapy.
In addition to 1:1 care for children with mental health needs, many providers offer support through peer and other virtual group settings. This group approach can help reduce symptoms of many mental health disorders and can complement traditional 1:1 care, or act as a first step for youth in need.
Teen Talk: https://www.teentalkapp.com/
A free, anonymous space for teens to get support from trained peers and share with others with similar experiences.
Anonymous social network for ages 13-80, where users can connect with trained moderators and others with shared experiences. The company has contracted with Walmart to offer peer support for Walmart employees.
Marigold Health: https://www.marigoldhealth.com/
Provides an anonymous social network where people with mental health & substance use conditions can support each other.
Help connect to support they already have
The right care for a given child’s need may already be in place in the child’s school, college campus, community, or government-sponsored research centers, like UCLA, which offers free treatment programs for many youth mental health conditions. Employers can make a big difference when it comes to helping their employees access care, since finding the right provider or the right service can be a daunting task even for parents who have the time.
It’s clear that workplace mental health is deeply connected to the mental health of employees’ families. Offering benefits that only address the mental health of your company’s workforce and not their families is less likely to have a real impact on the overall culture of a company. Taking an active role in supporting the mental health of your team is multifaceted, but it comes down to building trust: normalizing speaking out about all aspects of employee mental health, providing a space for peer support, offering care specific to your employees’ needs, and helping them navigate the care journey are all tools that your managers and people leaders can use to build a culture that supports all aspects of employee mental health.