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While rates of mental health conditions had been on the rise before the pandemic, the horrific number of deaths caused by the COVID-19 virus, isolation, racial unrest, economic instability, and the general sense of widespread fear all coalesced to cause rates of mental illness to skyrocket. Of particular concern are the rising rates of sadness, hopelessness, and even suicide among youth and young adults.

High school youth who report frequent feelings of sadness and hopelessness have increased 40% from 2009 to 2019. Emergency department visits for mental health issues increased by 28% between 2011 and 2015 among youth. Additionally, suicide rates for this age group (10-24) increased 52.2% between 2000-2021.

Mental health challenges among children and young adults are understandably having an impact on parents. Recent studies have shown that youth mental health conditions and family relationships are strongly associated with parental psychological symptoms. Caregivers may be more likely to not take care of their own mental health and wellbeing, be prone to burnout, and stretch themselves too thin. This in turn can affect parents at work, with an increase in absenteeism and decline in productivity.

The rate of suicide among Black or African American youth and young adults ages 10-24, which has traditionally been low, has increased 37%, which is more than any other ethnicity for that age group. While girls are more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, boys are 3 to 4 times more likely to die by suicide than girls. Additionally, youth growing up in poverty are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop mental health conditions than those of higher socioeconomic status.

Factors such as effective coping and problem-solving skills, supportive and connected relationships to family, friends, school, and community, and access to high quality healthcare are important to protect both youth and adults. In addition, while some of the increases we are seeing may reflect decreased stigma around mental health issues, others point to increased academic pressure, increased substance use, and increased digital media use among youth. Aside from ensuring that their own physical, emotional, and mental health needs are being met, there are other ways that parents can help support their child should mental health problems arise, many of which are detailed in the report Protecting Youth Mental Health by the US Surgeon General.

There are many things that employers can do to help mitigate this crisis. Below are some key strategies to consider:

  • Provide access to comprehensive, affordable, and age-appropriate mental health care for all employees, their families, and their dependent children.
  • Offer paid sick and family leave wherever feasible.
  • Support caregivers. Offer additional benefits such as mental health and wellness tools targeted at the unique needs of caregivers, help caregivers secure affordable childcare, and more flexible work arrangements.
  • Affirm the importance of mental health and wellbeing by creating space for employees to speak up about their feelings and offer ideas for employer wellbeing support.
  • Encourage company leaders to discuss their own mental health and model healthy behaviors such as using available benefit resources.
  • Provide managers and supervisors with training to help them recognize negative mental health symptoms in themselves and others and encourage employees to seek help. Also train them in the resources available through the employer’s benefit plan in order to fully support discussions with employees in need.
  • Form a Mental Health Resource Group to help build mental health awareness and provide peer support.
  • Regularly assess wellbeing within the workplace using employee surveys, making sure to include young adults who are just starting out and parents of young children.
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