The anxiety and social isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an already existing pediatric behavioral health crisis in the United States. A recently released study from Nationwide Children’s Hospital further reveals the depth of the problem and—for the first time—its effect on American workplaces.
Among its key findings:
- 53% of working parents have missed work at least once per month to deal with their children’s mental health.
- 54% of working parents interrupted their work to answer communication about their child’s behavioral health needs during business hours.
- 30% to 50% of working parents’ thoughts are on their child’s mental health and well-being even while they are at work.
- 85% of working parents think it’s a good idea to talk about children’s behavioral health, but few talked to their managers (20%), the human resources department (23%) or colleagues (21%).
- Working parents under the age of 40 are more concerned about their children’s mental health and are also more likely to choose employers based on access to mental health care benefits and resources.
“As a psychologist, what we found—that parents are concerned about their children's mental health—was not surprising to me,” says Ariana Hoet, Ph.D., On Our Sleeves clinical director and a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “What was surprising to me was how high the levels of concern from caregivers were.”
Results could promote corporate action
On Our Sleeves, a Nationwide Children’s initiative aimed at reducing the stigma of behavioral health issues and providing resources to families needing assistance, conducted the study in spring 2021 by surveying more than 5,000 working adults around the country. The organization released the survey’s results in a report, “The Great Collide: The Impact of Children’s Mental Health On the Workforce.”
While the report builds on previous research and follows alarms and calls to action from dozens of national organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association, Hoet hopes the survey’s findings prompt American corporations to join in the efforts to address children’s behavioral health.
“We're telling employers and company owners that children's mental health affects their bottom line, because if their employees are stressed and unable to support their children, they're not at their best at work,” Hoet says. “Our hope with this report is that employers take note of the data—the only way a caregiver can give their child the support they need is if they can be open and honest at work and are able to receive the support they need from their employer.”
Holistic view necessary for health care providers
Hoet says On Our Sleeves intends to conduct follow-up studies to pinpoint further details around the attitudes of workers, including the influence of employer-provided benefit plans for children’s behavioral health services on those making career decisions. Additionally, her team plans to dig deeper into possible anomalies in the reporting from lower-income and minority respondents.
In the meantime, she says it’s important for pediatric health care providers to always consider behavioral health as part of their overall health assessments.
“We have to see the child as a whole and the family as a whole,” Hoet says. “We need to normalize that it's okay to feel strong emotions and it's okay to see certain behaviors—especially with this pandemic we're going through.”