As emerging research suggests the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the mental wellbeing of young people, your employees may be struggling with more than their own personal resilience.
Emerging research suggests the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on the mental wellbeing of young people. Uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic, concerns about vulnerability to infection, continued physical distancing measures, and social and economic upheaval is driving increased anxiety and emotional stress for children and young adults. The research shows particular increases in clinginess, irritability, and fear in younger children—along with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and substance use in adolescents.
A closer look at the mental health of youth and adolescents
The breadth of the emotional impact of COVID-19 and its various effects spans geographies, ethnicities, and social status. Parents, teachers, and professionals across the country report the following observations and concerns:
Isolation is damaging. Youth are experiencing prolonged social isolation and various traumas associated with not being in school. While students would typically spend 30+ hours each week interacting with peers in-person, many kids now spend all of that time physically alone.
Loneliness is a major concern. Prior to COVID-19, 75% of school aged children took part in a sport, club, or other activity —many of which have been suspended. This means children are missing opportunities for social connections and exercise.
Safe spaces are diminished. School, along with friends’ houses, previously afforded some youth time in safer places. Issues are compounded for children who live in unsafe environments—as they are now isolated within these conditions.
Poverty presents challenges. Before the pandemic, 20 million students received free or reduced-price lunches—and access has been disrupted for many. Poverty and the challenges related to unemployed parents and caregivers have increased the prevalence of both hunger and homelessness.*
Access to services are impaired. 6.3 million children across 10,600 public schools access support resources through school-based health clinics, many of which have now been closed in order to contain the disease. Health, community, and social services access is now impaired by limited time at school.*
It’s more than COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, many youth are experiencing additional traumas that compound their stress and anxiety—including racism and natural disasters like wildfires.
Opportunities for Employers to Provide Support
Many employers are increasingly focused on the wellbeing of their workforce—physically, financially, and emotionally. And they can support the wellbeing of their employees by helping working parents care for their loved ones as well as themselves. Guiding employees to the resources available through your benefits program is a critical communication opportunity to connect employees to the plans and programs they may need most right now.
Promote virtual care options. Most health plans have increased the availability of virtual care options over the past couple of years—and this has accelerated at an even faster pace as a result of the pandemic. Be sure your employees and their dependents are aware of what’s available through their medical plans, and what types of board-certified providers and licensed counselors they may have access to from the comfort of their own homes.
Lean on your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Often an under-promoted and under-utilized benefit, your EAP can offer meaningful support to employees concerned for the emotional wellbeing of their children. These confidential and no-cost opportunities to be connected with mental health professionals, helpful resources in the community, and more can be a lifeline for a struggling parent.
Reinforce mental health & substance abuse coverage. If needs extend beyond what your EAP can provide, be sure employees understand benefits coverage for mental health and substance use disorder services if they’re enrolled in your medical plan. Benefits generally include behavioral health treatment like psychotherapy and counseling, mental health inpatient services, and treatment for substance use disorder.
Support time off and flexible working arrangements. Many employers have increased flexibility in work from home arrangements, alternative work schedules, etc. Yet for lots of employees, easier access to work means that the line between life at work and life at home has become blurred. Encourage employees to seek work/life balance, including time away. Remind employees that they have options, including talking to their manager if they need time to cope with family issues. Create Internal Networking Groups. Many employers have Employee Resource Groups for like-minded colleagues to strengthen communities and provide support. Introducing a Parents Group can provide an additional forum for your employees to connect with one another, share ideas, and receive peer-to-peer support—and help feel more connected to one another and your company in an increasingly virtual environment.
Promote additional resources. In addition to your own employer plans and programs, there are national resources that can provide just-in-time, critical support. Consider promoting both the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) and the Crisis Text Line (741741) in your employee communications.
There is Reason to be Optimistic
While the research can be concerning, we know that childhood mental health issues and disorders can be treated and managed. Early diagnosis and the connection to appropriate services are essential. While the most important thing is for parents and doctors to work closely together in support of a child, employer support also can have a meaningful impact in the mental health of youth and adolescents.
Please be advised that any and all information, comments, analysis, and/or recommendations set forth above relative to the possible impact of COVID-19 on potential insurance coverage or other policy implications are intended solely for informational purposes and should not be relied upon as legal or medical advice. As an insurance broker, we have no authority to make coverage decisions as that ability rests solely with the issuing carrier. Therefore, all claims should be submitted to the carrier for evaluation. The positions expressed herein are opinions only and are not to be construed as any form of guarantee or warranty. Finally, given the extremely dynamic and rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, comments above do not take into account any applicable pending or future legislation introduced with the intent to override, alter or amend current policy language.
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