Kids' Mental Health Struggles Are Affecting Parents at Work

Woman at working looking worried and distracted

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Key Takeaways

  • The mental health of our country's youth has been declared a national crisis, and its impact is extensive.
  • A new survey found that many working parents have missed work in order to deal with their children's mental health, and feel that they're constantly being pulled in different directions.
  • A multi-faceted approach is required to tackle the problem, including greater support from employers, say experts.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy recently declared children’s mental health a national crisis. In December 2021, Dr. Murthy issued an advisory to highlight the additional pressures the COVID-19 pandemic had put on the country's youth, and the urgent need to address this.

The impact of this crisis is far-reaching, and new research shows that it's affecting parents' well-being, plus their ability to succeed at work and provide for their families.

On Our Sleeves, a national movement that aims to break stigmas around children's mental health, surveyed more than 3,000 working parents across the US and found that six in 10 respondents were "very" to "extremely" concerned about their child's emotional health and development or behavior in the past two years. 

"Children’s mental health concerns have been hiding in plain sight for many years, surrounded by confusion and stigma," says Marti Bledsoe Post, lead study author, and executive director of On Our Sleeves. 

As Bledsoe Post points out, the pandemic brought these issues to the forefront of a national conversation. "This is a step in the right direction, but in these conversations, one thing that’s been missing is a clear connection between the mental health and wellness of our children with the success of the nation’s workforce, heavily made up of parents and caregivers—until now," she says.

A Closer Look at the Research

The survey found that 53% of working parents have missed work at least once per month to deal with their children’s mental health.

And 71% of parents said issues with their child’s mental or emotional well-being made the stresses of work much more difficult to cope with.

When asked about how it feels to be a parent during this time, responses included, “Being an elastic because I’m always being pulled and stretched until I snap,” and “Juggling. Always lots of moving parts, lots of balls in the air.”

Pediatric mental health concerns have been growing rapidly in the last couple of years and this study shows that this issue does not exist in a void.

"Employers need to know that a large percentage of their employees are struggling and it is impacting their work as a result," says Bledsoe Post. "Our mission with On Our Sleeves is to provide every family in America access to free, evidence-based educational resources. We see this study as incredibly important in starting the conversation and providing solutions for working families."

Marti Bledsoe Post

Employers need to know that a large percentage of their employees are struggling and it is impacting their work as a result.

— Marti Bledsoe Post

"We often talk about how an employee's mental health affects their work, but we don't talk much about what it's like for parents to juggle their child's mental health treatment while also trying to maintain a job," says Amy Morin, LCSW, psychotherapist, author, and editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind.

As Morin points out, taking a child to weekly therapy appointments, managing their medications, attending meetings at school, and advocating for a child's needs consumes a lot of time. Some parents may also need to take time off from work to stay home with a child who has a mental health condition. 

"Other parents may be trying to manage multiple phone calls a day from an anxious child or calls from a doctor about a child's medication needs," Morin adds. "It can be quite stressful for any parent who is trying to ensure their child's needs are met while also providing for their families."

And then there are problems accessing child care. "Parents may have their child on multiple waiting lists for treatment programs and it may be difficult to answer calls, complete forms, and manage schedules while at work," Morin explains.

Addressing the Issue

Employers can take steps to help parents juggle many things throughout the day. Giving them some flexibility over their schedules so they can attend appointments or manage phone calls during business hours could make a big difference, says Morin.

It can be difficult for families to understand their behavioral health benefits and other company benefits, such as an employee assistance burden (EAP), so it helps for employees to share how they might be able to use those resources in various ways, Morin adds.

From a parent's perspective, it's normal to want to keep your child's mental health struggles private. But letting a supervisor know what's going on might be really helpful.

"They may be able to find ways to support your efforts and may be more understanding if you need to take a call during a meeting or you need to leave early to attend an appointment," says Morin.

Amy Morin, LCSW

We often talk about how an employee's mental health affects their work, but we don't talk much about what it's like for parents to juggle their child's mental health treatment while also trying to maintain a job.

— Amy Morin, LCSW

She recommends creating a list of things that might help if you know what those things are. For instance, you might want to let your supervisor know your child is on a waiting list and if an opening becomes available on short notice, you would like to be able to take time off to take them to the appointment. 

"Ultimately we are looking to break down the stigma and encourage further conversation about children’s mental health, as well as demonstrate the urgency and far-reaching impacts of this problem," says Bledsoe Post. "This issue isn’t just a pediatric health issue—it impacts many sectors of our society as demonstrated in this study."

She hopes that by uncovering this connection others will be inspired to continue research into this topic and move toward finding solutions. "We are hopeful that employers and our nation’s workforce will prioritize this issue because, in the future, we will be looking to educate employers on what they can do to help," she explains. "In addition, we know that diverse parents need and accept support in different ways so further research into how to meet the needs of parents in all demographics, races, and cultures will be needed to fully address this issue. Starting the conversation is only the first step."

What This Means For You

When your child is struggling with their mental health, they are naturally your first priority. But it's important to get support for yourself too. That could mean anything from talking to an online therapist to attending a support group.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. US Department of Health and Human Services. U.S. Surgeon General issues advisory on youth mental health crisis further exposed by COVID-19 pandemic.

  2. On Our Sleeves. The great collide: How supported children enable successful companies.

By Claire Gillespie
Claire Gillespie is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. She’s written for The Washington Post, Vice, Health, Women’s Health, SELF, The Huffington Post, and many more.