The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the growing mental health crisis among America’s young people, and the problem has also started to bleed into the workplace. Fifty-three percent of working parents have reported missing work at least once per month to deal with their children’s mental health needs, and 30% to 50% of those same parents say they have persistent thoughts about their children’s mental health while at work, according to a recent survey.
These issues, which had already been building before the pandemic due to a variety of factors such as social stigma, social media use, bullying, and stressful news cycles, have only worsened.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in three teens have experienced symptoms of poor mental health from the onset of the pandemic through June 2021. In the same study, approximately 44% of those surveyed cited persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness within the 12 months before the pandemic, and 20% admitted to having seriously considered attempting suicide during that same period. The steep decline in youth mental health is a worrisome trend that is now having a noticeable impact on parents. For instance, 46% of parents have noticed a new or worsening mental health condition in their teens since the start of the pandemic. It would be foolish for any organization to think it is immune and not to realize the impact such issues have on its employees and, therefore, its operations.
Seeing the impact children’s mental health has had on parents, a growing number of prudent employers are taking action by providing expanded benefits for dependents. However, there is still not enough corporate participation to meet the growing need for youth mental health support.
If there ever were a suitable time for businesses to step in, now would be it. The benefits organizations can reap from investing in youth mental health will trickle down throughout their companies, from fostering a more productive and happier workforce to providing a boon to both prospective and current employees in terms of hiring and retention.
Impact on Working Parents
Working parents are under enormous pressure, from increased rates of burnout to administering remote school, and it’s time for employers to step up and help their employees navigate the multitude of mental health challenges that they and their families are experiencing. According to a 2021 survey, 84% of employees want their mental health benefits to extend to their dependents.
While there is no silver bullet that will solve this complex and evolving crisis, organizations can and should take proactive steps to ease the burden on families, especially as these issues tend to bleed into the workplace, leading to lower employee performance and engagement.
The Untapped Need for Employer Support
Investing in mental health is not just the right thing to do; it’s also good for business.
Approximately three in four large companies offer at least one type of mental health support for their employees, including virtual counseling services, digital recovery support, care navigation, and app-based mindfulness tools. When it comes to dependents, however, only 40% of parents say their company offers mental health resources for their child.
For businesses, doing the right thing means implementing programs and extending benefits to provide employees access to specialized care that supports and addresses the mental healthcare needs of their children.
Ultimately, the most effective programs will increase access to providers, resources, educational programs, and specialized support programs for children of employees.
Because of compounded mental health needs caused by the pandemic, organizations must recognize their power in advancing the conversation around youth mental health and should focus on increasing their investments in this area.
Unfortunately, not all organizations will be able to completely meet these demands in the near term. However, a practical next step that every company can take is to simply commit to a corporate culture that supports employees and their families with wellness resources and open conversations about difficult topics. This could also mean partnering with outside organizations focusing on mental health or donating to organizations that champion the cause. Some other tactical steps companies can take to work toward this goal include:
- Launch a companywide survey to collect feedback from employees about their mental health, as well as their children’s mental health, amid the pandemic. This will help employers get a sense of what parents are experiencing and provide a snapshot into how expansive a mental health program needs to be.
- As companies prepare to launch open enrollment this fall, they should consider offering new benefits that support the mental health needs of dependents.
- Establish an employee resource group for employees to connect about the challenges they’re experiencing with youth mental health. The group will provide an added layer of support and education for employees to help each other navigate the challenges they’re experiencing.
As youth mental health continues to be an unmet need, employers must recognize their influence and realize the role they have in supporting our nation’s young people. By making smart investments and implementing strategic programs to combat the youth mental health crisis today, companies can help ensure a more mindful workforce of tomorrow.
Dan Pontius is the President and Co-Founder of Choose Mental Health, a nonprofit leader in youth mental health advocacy that provides scholarships, resources and education to families in need of mental health care. Through its network of providers, they connect families with the resources, clinical care, and financial assistance to end the youth mental health crisis.