Mental health of children and parents: the workplace impact

Mental health – of both parents and their children – is becoming a growing concern and is impacting the workplace.

silhouette of a person with grey paper scrunched up around to depict depression


This week is National Work Life Week and mental health is likely to be a big focus, as Working Families’ new survey shows. It’s not just the mental health of parents, but also that of their children, which can be linked. More and more parents are trying to deal with their children’s mental health issues and vice versa – the impact goes both ways. Although things have got worse since Covid, they were already worsening before. Women Returners says it has noted more women dropping out of the workplace and then seeking to return due to dealing with teenagers’ mental health issues.

We know that mental health services across the UK are overwhelmed and schools, who have had years of budget cuts, are finding it hard to keep up with the extent of the problem.

So where does that leave parents? Many are struggling to get help with their GP, with the CAMHS service having long waiting lists. They are dealing with school refusal and trying every tactic possible to get their child into school. But it’s not easy if a teenager refuses to go in or is suffering panic attacks and if there is not the support available in schools to help them when they get there, meaning the next day will be even more of a struggle if you do manage to get them in for one day.

There are all sorts of reasons for the rise in mental health issues among young people – from coping with the Covid changes – going from homeschooling and back to school, Long Covid, dealing with the Covid impact on parents, bereavement and more – to ongoing concerns about social media and exam pressures to coping with the impact of the cost of living crisis. And much more.

The issue is how we deal with it. Due to the nature of mental health issues and the problems in accessing professional support, particularly if you have not got the money to pay for private therapy, most of the impact of this is being absorbed by parents. That has an impact on work. Some may have to drop out, but others, with the right understanding and flexibility, can keep going. Indeed work can provide a much needed sense of normality that helps keep parents going. Mental health is unpredictable. Young people – like everyone – can be very up and down. Being able to work from home or flex your hours so you can be there for appointments or when things get very bad can be vital.

One parent who spoke to us is Sarah Hurst whose husband died just before Covid. She has had to help her children negotiate their grief through lockdown and beyond. She says: “The flexibility that workplaces have learned from the pandemic should offer all employees with caring responsibilities options in their working pattern, which can make these life challenges – unexpected or otherwise – easier to deal with.”  She adds: “A manager once said to me that it is always beneficial to ensure employee wellbeing, because if an occasional mental health day for an employee can help them feel balanced and healthy, it can prevent issues getting exacerbated and resulting in that employee needing a longer leave of absence after breaking down, which has a far greater adverse affect on the business and other staff members, than a regular scheduled day off to look after themselves, as well as a far greater adverse affect on the person concerned.  I think this is such an important attitude to have in the workplace.”

If Covid has taught employers anything it is the importance of empathy. Yet many have been cutting down on mental health check-ins since we emerged from lockdowns and on flexibility. That is a very short-term approach. Our annual survey, which shows almost a quarter of parents said their children have mental health issues, found 67% said that providing support for their mental health, which is often worsened by worry about their children’s wellbeing, would make it more likely they would stay with their current employer. Mental health is not a private matter. It is something that affects all aspects of society and it needs a whole-society response.

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