The mental health of America’s young people was a major national concern before COVID-19. Now it’s reached crisis stage. As a nation, it’s past time to prioritize youth mental health and provide young people with the support they need. And employers have a significant role to play.
At the height of the pandemic, ER visits for mental health emergencies jumped by 24% for children aged 5-11 and 31% for those aged 12-17. Suspected suicide attempts by teen girls increased by more than 50%. Rising rates of depression, anxiety, loneliness, isolation, trauma and despair are clearly having a devastating effect on America’s youth.
Why do employers need to take a leadership role in addressing this crisis?
For starters, young people aren’t just the next generation of workers and customers. They are also the sons and daughters of current employees. That means youth mental health has a direct impact on every organization.
Unless you’ve lived through it, it’s difficult to describe the depths of concern, despair and helplessness parents feel when their children struggle with mental health challenges. I experienced it first-hand when my teenage son suffered a psychotic episode that disrupted his college years, impaired his ability to form relationships, and derailed his dreams of him—thankfully his de him is a story of tragedy to triumph. Other young people are not so lucky or can’t access the same care.
Fortunately, with the help of medication, strong family support, a wonderful marriage, and purposeful work, Brandon has been able to build a meaningful and constructive life. All our young people deserve this same opportunity to seek appropriate treatment, put themselves back on the path to wellbeing and fulfill their incredible potential.
To raise national awareness about the challenge we must confront, the Well Beings campaign launched a Youth Mental Health Project, which is supported by One Mind and many leading companies. In June, the Project will premiere a major documentary executive-produced by Ken Burns called Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness.
The film seeks to reduce the terrible stigma surrounding mental health that prevents so many from alerting others to their needs or seeking treatment. Through first-person interviews, it gives voice to the struggles millions of teens experience and highlights the need to dramatically ramp up mental health support for young people across the country.
On another front, Harry’s, best known for its online shaving products, is funding a new program called Team: Changing Minds. This initiative will create the first national network of mental health responders dedicated specifically to helping young people recognize the signs of mental health challenges and connecting them with professional support.
Aside from participating in inspiring programs like this, there are many practical steps employers can and should take. Several proposed actions were outlined in a recent US Surgeon General’s report called Protecting Youth Mental Health. Recommendations include:
· Providing comprehensive, affordable and age-appropriate mental health care for all employees and their families – including no- or low-cost access to mental health services.
· Implementing policies that help employees address mental health challenges, both at home and in the workplace, such as more robust paid family and sick leave.
· Creating a culture that prioritizes mental health and well-being for both employees and their family members.
Assessing the effectiveness of employer-sponsored mental health programs on a regular basis and updating them as needed to maximize effectiveness.
Whether they recognize it or not, every company in America is impacted by the mental health crisis engulfing our nation’s youth. By taking targeted action to improve youth mental health, organizations will reap the benefits now and for decades to come. And help create a stronger, healthier, more compassionate society.