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Trend 1: 5 Mental Health Insights to Support Family Well-being Post Pandemic

What HR and benefits leaders need to know to meet the mental health needs of working parents and their children in the new world of work.

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The Calm Team

7 min read

Ten minutes into a meeting with her manager, Annie’s phone lights up. Her stomach turns. It’s the after-school-care program director calling for the third time in two weeks to ask her to pick up her six-year-old son. He’s acting out again, and the teachers can’t adequately tend to his needs without compromising the teacher-to-student ratio and the safety of the other children. 

Feeling a mix of frustration, stress, and shame, Annie excuses herself from the meeting. She suspects that her son’s anxiousness about transitioning to a new classroom is the cause of his behavior, but she’s not sure how to help him. She’s worried about falling behind with work and wonders how long her manager’s patience will last. In fact, her manager begins to think that Annie needs a less demanding role given her parenting challenges. Coworkers start to resent and talk about her unexplained absences.

Employers moved fast to protect mental health during the pandemic.

Scenarios like this one have always been commonplace but rarely discussed openly in work culture, instead quietly affecting working parents, managers, and the broader workforce behind the scenes. It took a pandemic, which nearly doubled the rates of youth experiencing anxiety or depression symptoms, to finally bring everyday emotional and mental health challenges out of the shadows. 

As anxiety, stress, loneliness and burnout skyrocketed during the pandemic, employers quickly recognized the need to do more to support the mental well-being of families. They sprang into action, launching telehealth therapy, virtual summer camps for kids, tutor reimbursement programs, and other innovative short-term health and wellness benefits.

What should mental health benefits look like post pandemic?

But as the pandemic subsides, now what? How can HR and benefits leaders shaping their future-of-work strategy best support the mental health of families in a post-pandemic world? 

On one hand, family well-being is now a clear priority, not just in a time of crisis but in the face of everyday challenges like Annie’s. On the other hand, economic uncertainty and rising healthcare costs loom, prompting some organizations to cut back on employee benefits. What’s the best way forward?

The first step is understanding where family mental health is today and the support working parents want. To that end, Calm conducted a quantitative survey of 2,000+ 18- to 65-year-olds in the U.S. general population from September 23 to October 7, 2022. We also analyzed aggregate data patterns of 4 million+ Calm users. Our complete findings are published in Calm’s 2023 Workplace Mental Health Trends Report: The Future of Work. 

5 insights about family mental health and well-being today

Here are five key insights from our report to help you shape your culture and benefits in a way that works for everyone–employers, family members, and your organization.

1. The kids are not all right, especially among underrepresented groups. 

Even before the pandemic, our country faced a growing youth mental health crisis, with anxiety and depression increasing 30% among children ages 3 to 17 from 2016 to 2020. As we shift to the other side of the pandemic, the situation isn’t improving. Calm research shows youth continue to struggle with mental health challenges at alarming rates: 

  • One-third of parents said their children are feeling nervous, anxious, or stressed all the time.
  • One-quarter of parents said their children are feeling down, depressed, or hopeless all the time.

Consistent with public health research data, our survey also showed a higher prevalence of anxiety, stress and depression among Black, Hispanic, and LGBTQ+ youth than among general population youth. 

For example, parent survey responses indicate that up to 21% more Black youth are experiencing anxiety, stress, and depression, and 32% more LGBTQ+ youth are experiencing depression or feelings of hopelessness, both as compared to other youth.

2. Family mental health issues are affecting parents, especially women, during work.

The mass exodus of mothers from the workforce to care for their children during the pandemic—whether they were sick with COVID or healthy but at home due to school and day care closures—was widely publicized.  

Much less visible is the impact of a child’s mental health on working parents, especially mothers, which came through clearly in our survey. Calm research shows the following:

  • One in four parents have missed work to take care of their children’s mental health needs. 
  • Nearly eight out of 10 parents or guardians say their children’s mental health has impacted them during business hours.
  • One in three mothers of children under five have missed work to tend to their children’s mental health needs.

We also found that women generally take on more of the burden of care. More women (42%) than men (25%) are using kids’ content on Calm to support their kids’ mental health, and half of mothers, compared to one-third of fathers, think about their children’s mental health while working, which affects their stress level and productivity on the job. Unfortunately, women responding to our survey also said they’re taking less care of their own mental health due to their focus on caregiving.

three info boards showing mental health effects working part ways

3. Parents want managers to be more empathetic.  

It’s not surprising that mothers feel less supported by their work culture than fathers when it comes to mental health, but mothers and fathers both said that employers need to do more to improve manager empathy related to the demands of caregiving.

  • Supportive culture: Nearly half of fathers said their workplace culture is supportive of their mental health, compared to one-third of mothers and 30% of parents of LGBTQ+ children. 
  • Empathetic managers: About one-third of all parents want their employer to train managers to be more empathetic and supportive of caregiver needs.
  • Mindful managers: Forty percent of parents or guardians want managers to be trained to be more self-aware, better able to regulate their emotions, and able to create a less stressful work environment.

4. Children are talking with their parents about mental health.

If there’s one silver lining to the youth mental health crisis, it’s the fact that mental health stigma is on the decline. Our survey indicates that children are engaging with their parents about their mental health:

  • Forty-seven percent of parents or guardians say their children initiate conversations about mental health. 
  • Children aged 5–8 years are initiating the most mental health conversations, and 55% of their mothers say their children educate them about their mental health. 

5. Parents want employers to provide more preventive mental health care.   

As working parents (especially mothers and LGTBQ+ parents) support the increasing mental health needs of their children, including during the workday, they’re looking to their employers for help. 

When asked what they would like to see in employer mental health benefits, approximately half of mothers and LGBTQ+ parents said they want:

  • Mental health solutions to address their children’s anxiety, stress, and sleep needs. 
  • Dependent support in mental health benefits.
  • Mental health days off, in addition to sick days.
  • Wellness stipends to help pay for mental health needs.
  • Allotted time for mental health breaks on a weekly basis.  
  • Regular meditation/stretch breaks throughout the workday. 

These preventive measures are just some of the cost-effective ways to promote healthy minds and help reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and loneliness. Other strategies include creating support groups for parents and giving employees opportunities to share their stories.

Moving forward to support family mental health

As a new era of transparency around emotional and mental health emerges, employers have the opportunity to make mental health a priority for employees and their children in simple but powerful ways. They can augment Employee Assistance Programs and other mental health strategies with a wide range of preventive measures, including mindfulness training, daily meditations, movement breaks, and sleep stories. They can implement mental health tools that address the unique needs of people across all ages, races, ethnicities, genders, and geographies. 

Employers that embrace the opportunity to advance family mental health and well-being, rather than step back, can save money. For every dollar invested yearly in prevention and intervention programs to support mental health, employers can save up to $4 on other expenses. More important, employers that embrace the opportunity can be at the forefront of the future of work, creating organizations that thrive.

For more information on how Calm can help you improve family mental well-being, connect with our Calm specialist today

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