DENVER, Colo. — Not caring for a child’s mental health can negatively impact our economy. New research by the nonprofit On Our Sleeves shows parents spend up to half their day thinking about their child’s mental health, and that costs companies money and time.
More than two-thirds of working parents say they are distracted at their jobs because they are really concerned about their kid's mental health.
Mother of two Carrie Gerdes struggled with this personally. She was a teacher, and at the beginning of the pandemic, her son was home doing remote learning on his own. Gerdes said that’s when she noticed her son was struggling with anxiety and depression.
“He was left completely all alone and just here, you know, ‘Log on to the computer,' and for him, it just wasn't a good space,” said Gerdes. “He really didn't have that sense of belonging and connection.”
When Gerdes realized this was not the usual teenage angst, she couldn’t stay focused at work. She eventually left teaching to work in human relations, hoping to have more of a work-life balance.
“You’re torn. You want to take care of your children, but then part of taking care of your children is having a job that helps support them,” said Gerdes. “It was all I could do to kind of hold it together,” said Gerdes. “My mind just spinning the whole time, and my heart just was, you know, hurting and wondering about how my son was doing.”
Luckily, her boss at her new job noticed.
“He goes, ‘Just go home. Be at home with your husband, so you can take care of your son,’” she recalled.
Unfortunately, this isn’t how most employees are treated. Almost half (45%) of parents felt they could lose their job if they left work to care for a child’s mental health.
“It's really not a fringe problem. It is something that is happening,” said Marti Bledsoe Post, executive director of On Our Sleeves.
On Our Sleeves provides mental health care resources to parents, children and companies. It aims to help parents and children start conversations about mental health and provides free tools and resources to improve mental health for children.
Bledsoe Post said companies have a lot to lose when they don’t help employees address their kids’ mental health because 75% of parents are missing at least part of a workday once a month and 50% feel unprepared for meetings because of their child’s mental health.
“The modern workplace is not necessarily set up to support an employee through a sustained sort of like ongoing challenge,” said Bledsoe Post.
But she said workplaces can be set up to help.
“If we think as a society about what's a big problem that faces us in this generation and the next generation, I think the mental health of our children is something that we can align on,” said Bledsoe Post.
So, what can companies do?
Bledsoe Post recommends companies offer counseling and access to mental health care resources to employees and their dependents. That can look like therapy sessions or subscription access to mental healthcare apps. She said companies can also offer specific paid time off for mental health needs and make mental health part of company culture to de-stigmatize employees talking about it.
“The more we do talk about it, then hopefully the more opportunities, you know, employers will give to provide more mental health help, but then also people will hopefully feel more comfortable to talk about it and deal with it,” said Gerdes.
The more Gerdes and her employer talked about mental health, the more her son thrived. Her boss was able to connect her with different resources and offered emotional support.
Now, Gerdes’ son is thriving in school and sports.
“I do feel so taken care of here. You have to be able to thrive personally to then come and thrive professionally,” said Gerdes.
Bledsoe Post said much of the Great Resignation involves parents switching jobs to be more present for their kids, and she said companies can retain the best talent when they acknowledge this as well.