Increasing numbers of working parents are dealing with the pressure of their children’s mental health problems. So what can be done to help?
A couple of weeks ago we did a feature on the impact on working parents of dealing with their children’s mental health issues. It’s a growing issue, with more and more young people having eating disorders, depression, anxiety and numerous other conditions. Covid is, of course, increasing the pressure, not just in terms of more mental health issues, but in terms of the difficulties involved with getting access to support.
Waiting lists are long and, while there are online platforms that young people can access in the meantime, they may not be sufficient to help those with deep-rooted problems. In the meantime, parents are struggling with trying to deal with all the ups and downs, trying to motivate young people to get out of bed, to keep going, to eat…
Some parents, of course, are dealing with more extreme cases, where their children are in psychiatric units, who have had to fight day in day out to get their children the care they need, who have to travel long distances just to see their children…all this on top of trying to keep working.
While such extreme cases are not the norm, dealing with a child who is anxious, having panic attacks or depressed is no walk in the park. It tests every ounce of your abilities as a parent, from being able to listen and understand the nature of their worries and trying to get them to inch one step forwards to negotiating with health and education services for the support they need…
That kind of care is not valued, though. Yet if you are estimating the cost of providing mental health services, long considered the “Cinderella” of health services, it should be born in mind. A young person’s mental health issues, left to worsen as waiting lists lengthen, have a personal and wider social cost.
Then, of course, there is preventive care – understanding what is driving the rise in mental health issues and trying to do something to address it. Yet that is hugely difficult, given there is often no one cause. So we have to address all of them, from bullying and unrealistic expectations to the pressure of endless testing.
The trouble is that parents are often subjected to many of these same pressures, yet get very little support themselves. And that can contribute to their own mental health, which affects their work. There has been more and more focus on mental health at work during the pandemic. Draft guidance from Public Health England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence makes several recommendations intended to help firms “create the right conditions” to support mental wellbeing in the workplace. It comes after a 2020 study by Deloitte estimated that poor mental health among staff costs UK firms up to £45bn a year.
While employers can and should address workplace-based stress factors, it is clear that the links between home and work are becoming increasingly blurred with issues which merge the two such as financial wellbeing listed as big reasons for mental ill health.
While employers can be understanding in terms of flexible working when it comes to parents dealing with family mental health issues, one of the most helpful things that larger employers can do is to support employee networks where parents can share their experiences and stresses. It may seem like just a drop in the ocean, but listening to employees and finding those key things that work can make the difference between just about coping and falling over the edge.