Family Wellbeing

Children's Mental Health Crisis: How Employers Can Support Families

Written by
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Jess Maynard
Clinically reviewed by
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Father with his two children in his arms in a field

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    Our children are suffering from increasing mental health challenges. Although mental health struggles were increasing prior to the pandemic, two years of isolation and general social upheaval have made things significantly worse: 

    In fact, things are so dire, that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association teamed up recently to write an emergency declaration regarding child and adolescent mental health.

    Multiple surveys and studies are revealing the same thing: children and teens are wrestling with poor mental health, all while many of your employees are struggling to balance work and parenting without burning out.

    How is children’s mental health affecting people at work?

    Mental health struggles within a family can carry over into the office, through employee stress, anxiety, and the lack of focus that understandably happens when people we care about are suffering. 

    The national project On Our Sleeves recently published a large survey of over 3,000 working parents regarding their children’s mental health in relation to their experiences as employees. Over half of working parents in America reported missing work or being interrupted at work to deal with their child’s mental health issues.

    Parents are responsible for figuring out what their kids need, so this burden is a heavy one. 

    There aren’t many easy-to-access therapeutic resources out there for parents whose children are struggling. Many are desperate to get therapeutic help for their kids, and simultaneously aren’t sure how to talk to their children about mental health issues.

    While working with kids and their parents, there are several recurring challenges parents talk about regarding their children’s mental health:

    1. The difficulty of knowing how to address their child’s mental health. Where can they turn for good information? How do they talk to kids about anxiety, depression, social media or self-harm? What do they do for a child who is in significant distress
    2. Closed channels of communication. Often parents don’t know there’s anything wrong until there’s a crisis.
    3. Not knowing whether behavior is age appropriate or being able to identify the signs of mental health issues.
    4. Accessing pediatric care. Average wait time for a pediatric therapy appointment is 7.5 weeks. It’s not uncommon for this to take months.
    5. Parents are often dealing with their own mental health issues, further complicating family dynamics around mental health.
    6. The financial impact of rising ER visits for mental health. When mental health issues become an emergency, it’s expensive to get care. It’s also hard to find available treatment, such as placement in psychiatric facilities or other forms of inpatient care. Early intervention is so important.
    7. Balancing work performance with child care, always a difficult task, is made even more so when the child is suffering from mental health issues. This is a huge burden on parental and family mental health.

    Benefits of providing mental health support for families

    Why should HR leaders concern themselves with children’s mental health? 

    Six in 10 working parents report being concerned about their child’s emotional health and behavior during the pandemic years. This manifests in distraction at work and interruptions or missed work days spent dealing with their children. 

    When employees’ home lives and families are healthy, this is reflected at work in many ways, including:

    • Employee stress, anxiety, and burnout is reduced.
    • Focus and productivity increase when employees aren’t stressed about their child’s untreated mental health issues.
    • Fewer missed work days spent being with their children in times of crisis or while getting them treatment.
    • Better employee retention. Children’s mental health concerns may cause parental burnout. They can also force employees to leave the workplace to parent full time if mental health concerns are ignored and become a full blown crisis. 
    • Financial impact is lessened as earlier intervention leads to fewer emergency ER visits and less future care.

    This is a win-win situation for HR leaders. Giving employees resources and access to children’s mental health help allows them to be more focused and productive in the workplace, while they also get much needed support.

    What can HR leaders do to support children’s mental health?

    Supporting employees and their families means providing resources geared toward children’s mental health, building a company culture that is more open to discussing mental health, and showing empathy for the burdens working parents are facing in a time when so many children are struggling.

    Here are more specific ways HR leaders can help employees navigate their children’s mental health.

    Access to pediatric therapy resources

    This has been very difficult to obtain during the pandemic, and is especially important because earlier intervention leads to fewer ER visits for mental health reasons, and better overall mental health outcomes. 

    Protect the jobs of working parents whose children are in crisis

    People leaders can ensure that parents understand their options for leave benefits and possibilities for schedule flexibility, so they can address family concerns while keeping their job.

    Normalize conversations around children’s mental health

    Many parents are afraid to even broach this topic with people leaders, supervisors, or coworkers due to fear of losing their job or being penalized. 

    Ask your employees how their kids are doing, and create space for them to share their challenges with you. This can open the door to future conversations about what they and their families are facing. 

    Encourage employees to notice and articulate specific concerns regarding their children:

    • Are they sleeping well and eating regularly? 
    • Do they show enthusiasm for activities and passions? 
    • Has there been a noticeable change in moods? Has the child developed behavioral issues at school? 

    It can be easy and comforting to attribute some of these things to willful misbehavior—but behavioral changes are often symptoms that something is not right.

    Create support groups for working parents 

    Beginning an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for parents with kids experiencing a mental health crisis can go a long way in helping those employees feel more supported. 

    This gives parents a place where they can openly share their experiences and challenges around navigating their children’s mental health, and know they’ll be understood. 

    Give parents educational resources and direct education

    Equip your employees with ways to begin the conversation about mental health with their children. Helpful resources could be in the form of materials, classes, apps, speakers, or information about local services. 

    It’s always good practice to listen and validate a child’s feelings and experiences, normalize and model self-care in their household, openly discuss mental health, and teach children that there’s never a wrong or bad time to seek help. 

    Everyone needs help and support at some point. It’s also important to note that these should not be one time conversations, but ongoing and regular throughout the child’s life.

    Mental health support for families

    When children are in dire need of help, there isn’t time to wait weeks or even months to get an appointment with a mental health professional. And the average wait time for a pediatric therapy appointment is 7.5 weeks.

    With Spring Health, parents can get an appointment for their kids ages six and up in two days or less, after just a few clicks.

    Parents don’t need to know exactly what kind of mental health help their child needs. Spring Health offers families a single place for support, which includes dedicated human guidance from a clinical Care Navigator to help figure out how to address a child’s specific needs. 

    Care Navigators can also make recommendations, referrals, and answer questions about navigating mental health conversations with children and teens. 

    Scheduling care can be filtered by condition or for specific needs (age, faith, identities). Each family goes through the following process to pinpoint the best care plan:

    1. Comprehensive assessment 
    2. Personalized care plan
    3. Dedicated care navigator (licensed clinician)
    4. Access to care

    After taking these simple steps, Spring Health gives families immediate access to professional support, guidance, and care. 

    During an era when children’s mental health is at a breaking point, providing parent’s access to this kind of support cannot be overstated. Employees that feel supported in this way are more likely to stay with their employer, are more productive at work, and are happier and healthier overall. 

    Watch this video to discover our streamlined experience for family mental health care, including therapy for children as young as six years old.

    About the Author
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    Jess Maynard

    Jess is a seasoned writer who has completed graduate work in women’s studies. She also works at a domestic violence shelter facilitating support groups for children and teens. Jess follows her curiosity devoutly and is committed to using her accumulated knowledge and life experiences to articulate facets of being human.

    About the clinical reviewer
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