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Turn your attention to pediatric behavioral healthcare during National Youth Mental Health Month

May is National Youth Mental Health Month, and this year it’s more relevant than ever. You might think the United States’ youth mental health crisis — what U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called “the crisis of our time”  — has little to do with your organization. But it almost certainly affects your workforce. Forty percent1 of American employees have at least one child under their2 out of every 5 workers are parents with a child under the age of 18 care, so youth mental health directly impacts many of your employees’ lives. One in six2 children have a diagnosable mental health condition, and 71%3 of parents report that their child’s mental or emotional well-being added stress that affected their work.

Children’s mental health challenges — like attention disorders, anxiety, depression, bullying, suicidal ideation and a host of other symptoms and diagnoses — can have significant impact on your business. You can draw a direct line of influence from your employees’ children’s mental health to the health and productivity of your workforce. In fact, 53%4 of working parents report that they’ve missed work at least once a month to tend to their children’s mental or emotional health.

Reporting in 2021 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed the need for pediatric mental health care sharply rising:

  • In 2021, 42% of high school students said they experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year, a 13.5% increase from 2019 and a 50% increase from 2011.
  • Nearly one in five high school students had seriously considered attempting suicide during the previous year, while 18% made a suicide plan, and 10% of high school students attempted suicide.

Providing ample pediatric behavioral health benefits supports parents and boosts the time, energy and attention your employees have available for their jobs.

Some youth mental health challenges will be lifelong, some only temporary. For both, it’s important to support them with early diagnosis and treatment. The average delay between mental health symptom onset and treatment is 11 years;5 for kids, that can be a lifetime. And the symptoms can start early: one in six American children ages 2-8 has a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental condition.6 Half of all lifetime mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75% begin by age 24.7

There are things you can do as an employer to ensure you’re providing the pediatric behavioral healthcare that your workforce needs. These include signing up for behavioral health solutions, then clearly and frequently communicating with your workforce about the benefits available to them. Of all working parents, only 25%8 knew if their employer offered pediatric mental health resources. You can also support youth mental and emotional wellness by bringing in experts from the community to give free information sessions or webinars for your employees.

Finding youth mental health experts in your immediate community can be a challenge due to a shortage of behavioral health providers. It’s reported 75-80%9 of people who need mental healthcare don’t receive adequate treatment due to barriers to accessing high-quality resources. The ratio of child and adolescent psychiatrists to children is only 14 psychiatrists per 100,000 kids.10 However, primary care providers (PCPs) can be a strong resource. Approximately 90%11 of kids receive regular medical care from a primary care provider, and 70-80%12 of prescriptions related to pediatric mental conditions are written by pediatricians and general practitioners. Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield works with works with our providers to promote behavioral health as part of our members’ whole-person health. Currently, only one in three pediatricians13 report having sufficient training to diagnose and treat patients with mental disorders. Integrated care amplifies the influence and reach of PCPs and improves access to pediatric behavioral healthcare.

Another challenge built into the youth mental health crisis is a persistent and pernicious problem: stigma. Stigma can aggravate children’s relationships and feelings of loneliness or alienation; it makes any mental or emotional health problem feel worse. For children of color, the stigma can be intense. It may contribute to non-white youths being diagnosed with major depression at rates 35%14 lower than white youths; it’s not that they experience less major depression, but they are less likely to seek or have access to treatment. In fact, almost two-thirds of youth of color who need treatment for major depressive episodes don’t receive it.15

And it’s not just the kids who are affected by negative perceptions of mental health. Adults in your workforce may feel social shame about their children’s struggles and thus not be open about the ways their kids’ issues are affecting their work. At least 45%16 of parents who say they’ve been affected by their children’s mental health fear they could lose their jobs or opportunities for promotion if their child’s mental health interfered with work. Likewise, parents are hesitant to share these challenges with their employers. Only 23% of parents said they’d be comfortable discussing family mental health issues with a human resources representative, and only 20% felt comfortable sharing the information with their supervisor.17

It’s why we’ve launched Because the only way to destigmatize these issues is to encourage open conversation so people can understand how prevalent and normal behavioral health problems are among their friends, families and work colleagues. These challenges aren’t shameful. They’re common, relatable and treatable. 

As an employer, you have a vital role in welcoming these hard conversations and creating a culture of compassionate support in your organization. Your workforce will realize what a difference this kind of work-based support makes, recognize and appreciate the culture of care you’ve fostered. This, paired with providing ample behavioral health coverage for employees and their families, helps build employee loyalty and engagement in their work.

Ways you can support your employees with behavioral health challenges include:

  • Remind your leadership to be outspoken about your organization’s commitment to battling damaging mental health stigmas. Sharing our National Youth Mental Health Month 2023 infographic can help communicate key ideas and numbers to them quickly and compellingly.
  • Use programs to help destigmatize mental health problems and encourage those struggling to seek help.
  • Introduce policies allowing employees flexibility with hours and remote work.
  • Assure employees that they can take time off from work to care for their families.

Together we can help boost your workforce’s engagement and productivity, build employee loyalty, and most importantly, help children and families who are hurting from mental health issues find affordable treatment and sustainable solutions.

1 Aaron Terrazas, “Parents Have Returned to the Workforce, But Gains Are Uneven and Challenges Persist,” Glassdoor, Sept. 16, 2022.

2 Daniel G. Whitney, PhD, and Mark D. Peterson, PhD, “US National and State-Level Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders and Disparities of Mental Health Care Use in Children,” JAMA Pediatrics, 173(4), 389-391, Feb. 11, 2019.

3,8,16 Marti Bledsoe Post, The Great Collide: The Impact of Children’s Mental Health on the Workplace, On Our Sleeves, Spring 2021.

4 Nationwide Children’s Hospital, “The Great Collide: The Impact of Children’s Mental Health on the Workplace,” Nationwide Foundation, Feb. 22, 2022.

5 Philip S. Wang, et al., “Delays in Initial Treatment Contact after First Onset of a Mental Disorder,” Health Services Research, 39(2), 393-416, Apr. 2004.

6 CDC, “Children’s Mental Health – Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health,” March 8, 2023.

7 Ronald C. Kessler, et al., “Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication,” Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602, June 2005.

9, 13 Beth A. Stroul, MEd, Gary M. Blau, PhD, and Justine Larson, MD, The Evolution of the System of Care Approach for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Mental Health Conditions and Their Families, The Institute for Innovation and Implementation, School of Social Work, University of Maryland, 2021.

10 AACAP Press/News, “Severe Shortage of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists Illustrated in AACAP Workforce Maps,” American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), May 4, 2022.

11,13 CDC, “Behavioral Health Integration,” March 8, 2023. The Institute for Innovation and Implementation, School of Social Work, University of Maryland, 2021.

14 BCBSA, 2021 Youth Mental Health Data.

15 Sydney Daniello, et al., Addressing the Youth Mental Health Crisis: The Urgent Need for More Education, Services, and Supports, Mental Health America, Jan.

17 Greg Goth, “Don’t Overlook the Mental Health of Workers’ Children,” SHRM, June 1, 2022.