Given the increased volume and magnitude of mental health issues amongst children following the pandemic and the additional burden on the ever-stretched NHS, employers are being urged to communicate the fact that children do not necessarily need to be named on their parents’ policies to access the mental health support available within employee benefits.
Employers may find that they already have mental health support in place for dependants via health and wellbeing benefits including protection insurance, group insurance, PMI, Employee Assistance Programmes and Cash Plans, and so it may be that employers simply need to communicate the availability of this added-value service to their staff.
We have seen increasing numbers of young people being diagnosed with anxiety, depression, panic attacks, eating disorders, self-harming and suicidal thoughts, as well as having more general feelings of lack of self-worth, hopelessness and isolation. All of these issues can also lead to friendship problems, academic concerns and school refusal, which puts an additional burden on parent-employees.
Support for employees’ children can include:
- Guidance to navigate the NHS to facilitate diagnoses and access services
- Organisation of suitable structured therapy or counselling
- Provision of written and audio-visual materials
- Signposting to national and local mental health charities
- Support in getting a second opinion
- One-to-one emotional support for parents
Employers who are in doubt about their provision should speak to their insurer, employee benefits consultant or adviser to get a better understanding of what support is included within their current employee benefits packages – they may be pleasantly surprised.
Being mum or dad is a job from which employees can never switch off and nor should they feel the need to do so. However, it’s incredibly hard for parents to concentrate and be productive in the workplace if they have pressing concerns about the mental health of their children. Many employers will find that they can offer support for employees’ dependent children and, although there is rarely a quick-fix for mental health issues, having a plan in place and a clear pathway can be a great source of relief for working parents.
Helping employees’ children may help employees remain in the workplace as some parents are considering reducing their hours or taking extended or unpaid leave to support their children, especially during the forthcoming exam season.
Recent catalysts for mental health issues in children
Research from Young Minds, the young person’s mental health charity, found that many young people believe the pandemic will have a long-term negative impact on their mental health and those who were already experiencing mental health issues, said it had exacerbated their symptoms.
The catalysts for these mental health issues in children are two-fold:
- Direct effects of the virus itself such as bereavement in the family; symptoms arising from the child having had Covid or Long Covid; and overstretched paediatric mental health services to provide early intervention and treatment.
- Indirect effects stemming from the public health measures implemented to control the virus such as lockdowns, social distancing, wearing of masks and disruption to education.
Employers can really demonstrate their care for their staff by helping them staff access mental health support for the ones they most care about – their children.
As a society that now encourages people to talk openly about their mental health issues, when our children have the courage to speak up, we must ensure they have solutions available to help them. Employers can play a crucial part in providing that support.