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An ongoing teenage mental health crisis
It’s only partially accurate to say that teen mental health is now in crisis. This is not a new phenomenon, although three years of pandemic-related chaos both accelerated the decline and brought widespread attention to it.
Way back in 2019—ages ago in pandemic time—the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report saying that “mental health disorders have surpassed physical conditions” in regard to causing “impairment and limitation” among teens.
Teens were already struggling with their mental health before the pandemic. So, while new research from the CDC shows that the mental health of teen girls has significantly deteriorated, it’s important to note that this is part of a longer, ongoing crisis.
Teen girls are struggling with mental health
The CDC report contains some stark statistics on teenage mental health. Nearly three in five U.S. teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, an almost 60% increase and the highest level reported in the past ten years.
Other findings from the report:
- Nearly 1 in 3 teen girls seriously considered attempting suicide—a 19% increase from a decade ago
- 1 in 5 teen girls experienced sexual violence in the past year—a 15% increase since the CDC began tracking this in 2017
- Over 1 in 10 were forced to have sex—a 12% increase since the CDC began tracking this in 2019
- 57% of girls report depression symptoms, compared with 29% of boys
- More than half of LGBTQ+ students recently experienced poor mental health, and 1 in 5 attempted suicide within the past year
This report is bleak, there’s no doubt. However, many warning signs over the previous decade show teen girls’ mental health has declined.
- Suicide rates have climbed for Black girls by 6.6% per year, on average, in the past decade
- Two surveys show that teen mental health has declined from 2013 to 2022, with teen girls showing a more pronounced decline
- Last year, girls scored almost one full point higher (worse) on questions about worry, fear, depression, and unhappiness than boys.
Addressing poor mental health after incidents of violence is part of the solution. Still, this data should also be a call to combat the problem at its source—working for a world where girls and women are not routinely subjected to physical and sexual violence.
Lack of teen mental health resources
With teen girls struggling at unprecedented levels, it’s natural to ask what resources are available to help them. How is this problem being addressed? The answer to this question is part of the teen mental health crisis.
In the U.S., the national average ratio of child psychiatrists to 100,000 children is 14, with some states experiencing as low as 4 child psychiatrists to 100,000 children.
The lack of access to early interventions in the form of therapy and other mental health services means parents don’t know where to turn to get their child help. Only about 20% of children with emotional, behavioral, or mental health disorders receive care from a specialized mental healthcare provider.
Many of these kids get worse without some form of therapeutic intervention, with some ending up in the ER—a last resort for desperate families.
ER visits have ballooned in the past 40 years. In 1982, there were 250 emergency room visits by suicidal adolescents. By 2010, the number had increased to 3,000. By 2022, it was 8,000.
Why teen mental health is relevant for HR leaders
In the U.S., 33.3 million families have at least one child at home under 18. That number represents many employees balancing work with their child’s mental health struggles. When those parents walk into the workplace or start working from home at 9 am on a Monday, the worry, fear, and stress of having struggling children at home doesn’t disappear.
In a recent report on children’s mental health and working parents, one parent phrased it this way: “It’s been a full-time job to advocate for my child since the pandemic.” In the same report, one-third of working parents say they’ve quit or changed jobs due to their child’s mental health in the past two years.
No one has an easy solution for solving the teen mental health crisis. But some things we do know are that it takes time, support, and resources. For busy, working parents, getting access to help and having the time to get their children through a mental health crisis is challenging.
A heavy burden for parents at work
The pressure and time-consuming nature of this dynamic—so many working parents with struggling teens—is almost an unthinkable burden. Imagine, for a moment, being at work, trying to focus, worrying about your 14-year-old teen who you know is self-harming and having suicidal thoughts.
HR leaders can be on the lookout for employees struggling with their child’s mental health. This might look like:
- Presenteeism: when employees are at work, but not fully focused or present. Parents can’t be their best selves if they are at work worrying about a teen at home who is struggling, maybe suicidal, or possibly skipping school due to anxiety or bullying.
- Absenteeism: employees may be missing work because their child is having a mental health crisis.
- Stressed and anxious employees: anyone with a child at home going through a mental health crisis will likely show signs of elevated stress or anxiety.
Working parents are placing a lot of importance on working for companies that provide mental health benefits for their kids. In fact, 72% of working parents surveyed say, “jobs that provide their children with mental health benefits and resources are more attractive to me than jobs that do not offer such benefits.”
How HR leaders can support working parents and their teens
With so many teens struggling, there’s no doubt that most companies and organizations are employing parents trying to negotiate working and dealing with a child’s mental health issues. Employers are in a position to support parents in several different areas.
A recent survey about working parents and children’s mental health showed that parents are asking for:
- Schedule flexibility
- Acknowledgement and understanding
- Paid time off
HR and benefits leaders can also:
- Point employees toward HR benefits related to families and youth
- Promote education and conversations around mental health
- Reevaluate their organization’s mental health benefit to ensure it’s offering support for both employees and their teens
- Provide education and support around teen social media use
This last point is worth discussing. While there’s no singular culprit to pinpoint the decline in adolescent mental health, the rapid rise of teen immersion in social media is likely one of several intertwining causes.
Most parents didn’t grow up with social media and have no idea how to help their kids navigate it. So many teens spent the pandemic at home, not socializing in person with their peers and using social media extensively, which has led to online bullying, too much screen time, worse sleep, and a lack of exercise and time outdoors.
Of course, this conversation has some nuance, and social media has positive and negative aspects for teens. The main point is that parents need to be able to have conversations about social media with their kids and don’t know where to begin.
Fast access to family mental healthcare
For working parents of kids struggling with mental health, both adults and adolescents need mental health support. Spring Health offers fast access to specialized care for all ages—including children, teens, parents, couples and caregivers—that fits into busy family schedules.
Appointments in less than two days
Shortages in therapists and other mental health providers are a huge piece of the teen mental health crisis. Parents desperately need access to pediatric mental healthcare specialists.
With Spring Health, appointments are available in less than two days on average, even on nights and weekends. Plus, all family appointments with providers are in one place for scheduling, rescheduling, and cancellations.
Each Spring Health member is assigned a Care Navigator, a master’s level licensed clinician, who is available to guide them through their mental health journey.
Any parent of a child struggling with mental health can get expert guidance 24/7 from their Care Navigator, who can connect them with a pediatric therapist or help them find other resources to help their child.
Care Navigators are also trained in crisis interventions and can help de-escalate if a parent calls because their teen has a mental health crisis. They can also help support the parent in their own mental health journey.
The entire care team works together to ensure families get the best support. This includes Care Navigators, providers, and coaches.
Digital guides, content, and education
Our ever-growing library of on-demand exercises, called Moments, is designed by clinicians and parenting experts to help with everyday family life and big events. Topics include adjusting to parenting, supporting behavior changes in kids, and increasing communication within families.
Family members can attend small group conversations, hosted by a Spring Health Provider, called WellSprings. These are designed to provide connection and support related to a variety of mental health topics.
Parent coaching and support
Working parents have access to unbiased, evidence-based guidance on parenting best practices. They can partner with a credentialed coach on various topics, like improving parent-child communication, identity support, and behavioral concerns.
Dedicated teen experience
Our unique and tailored teen experience supports parents by intentionally guiding their teenager’s mental health and well-being journey. This specialized mobile-first offering gives teen members direct access to a safe and personalized digital experience, specialized care, and teen-specific educational resources and on-demand Moments exercises.
Learn more about this latest innovation in our Family Care suite of services, which provides mental health care and support for all ages.