By Tracey Ward, Head of Business Development & Marketing at Generali UK Employee Benefits
It’s a sad indictment of modern life and childhood that a third of employees worry about their children’s mental health while at work1. This is not only an issue for children and their parents, it also has a knock-on effect on employers too. Presenteeism is ever rising. Four-fifths (83%) of employers said in response to a recent CIPD survey2 that they’d observed presenteeism in their organisation. And a quarter (25%) said the problem had got worse since the previous year. So how can employers help empower working parents to be in a better place to support both themselves and their children?
The good news for some employers is that they probably have a degree of relevant support already in place via their various health and group risk insurances. The bad news is they’re probably not utilising these benefits to full effect. More on that later.
Right now, let’s delve a bit deeper into why this demands employer attention.
Reduced stigma = Increased support needs
Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people4. Although most children grow up mentally healthy, surveys suggest that more children and young people have problems with their mental health today than 30 years ago. Experts say that’s probably because of changes in the way we live and how that affects the experience of growing up. Changes in life can trigger problems for children and young people who are already vulnerable.
Out of the 1 in 10 figure mentioned above, what’s really worrying is that 70% have not received appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age4. Just about every report and item of research out there points to the fact that early diagnosis and fast access to support aids recovery and long-term management.
But are things getting worse or are we, as a society, just getting better at being more open about the challenges? Figures show that 70%1 of parents speak to their children about their emotional health and wellbeing more than their own parents did.
So, while it’s encouraging that the stigma is slowly being eradicated, it’s also essential to ensure that the necessary support systems are in place: both in terms of direct support for the child but also for the parent. Considering these worries are likely to be contributing to the growing issue of presenteeism2, it pays for employers to consider what working parents need.
Parents face isolation
While it’s clear that parents see the importance of supporting their children’s mental health, they still require support too. Parents need help to get into a better place to rationally consider their children’s needs.
Bupa reports that the most common queries they receive into their Family Mental HealthLine, available to any parent or carer with Bupa health insurance, are related to physical and online bullying, moving to a different school or social circle and pressure to succeed at school.
The HealthLine, which provides guidance and signposting from trained advisers and mental health nurses plus nurse-led case management if required, was designed and launched in response to the fact that, on average, 70% of mental health calls to Bupa have a family related aspect3.
Dr. Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK, says: “We’re committed to helping families safeguard their mental health, recognising the positive impact an early diagnosis and fast access to treatment can have on someone who is struggling with their mental health.
“Worryingly our research shows that a high proportion of teenagers are reporting symptoms of mental ill health including low self-esteem, anxiousness, and loneliness. Naturally this is leaving parents concerned and looking for trustworthy support. Over the past few years we’ve also seen a big increase in the number of customers coming to us wanting support for children they care for.”
Maximise existing services
Employers would be wise to also look at how they can make much better use of their Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) with regards to support for parents.
EAP and total wellbeing provider LifeWorks will provide initial assessments of immediate / critical need and then signpost to the most appropriate resources and services.
Although EAPs cannot support children directly through the services they offer, they can help parents with an appropriate route forward. “For example, a parent may be concerned about their child who is experiencing anxiety,” says Luke Prankard, Wellbeing Consultant at LifeWorks. “As a service we can support the parent with their concerns and worries and, where appropriate, provide more structured counselling for the parent. We can also signpost to resources which can support including Young Minds Parent Helpline, recommend connections with the GP or the child’s school or alternatively look at local and national charities who may be able to support the child.”
Consider tailored support
Meanwhile, Julie Denning, Managing Director and Chartered Health Psychologist, at organisational wellbeing consultancy Working To Wellbeing, partners with group income protection insurers – amongst others – to provide bespoke services to parents / carers. These services, designed for those who are perhaps considering time off work due to demands and lack of awareness of work support available and / or where their mental or physical health is affected due to stressful circumstances, might include:
Work focused support and work planning for parents to be able to take time to support their dependant.
Advice on mental health tools and techniques for parents to support their own mental health while supporting their dependant.
Signposting to employer mental health services or direct access to group income protection health support for parent.
Advice for dependant services and writing to clinicians to facilitate access.
Julie adds that the third sector provides lots of online advice and some charities have a helpline. “But more is needed,” she says. “We know that resources – children’s and adults’ – are scarce for those experiencing long-term conditions and it’s the same for parents / carers but perhaps worse. They often face loneliness and isolation, fear, fatigue and exhaustion, financial worry, concerns about taking time off for appointments and the unpredictability of mental health flare-ups, not to mention delays in accessing support for themselves and their loved ones.
“Employers could do a lot to support their employees who are also carers. Not supporting could perhaps run the risk of losing valued employees. We’re currently in the process or putting together a parent / carer package to offer to employees guidance because of the lack of active support initiatives in this area, particularly with regards to a work focus.”
Generali Employee Benefits UK partners with LifeWorks and Working To Wellbeing – and imminently Bupa – to provide a range of added value support services, along with making these third-party provider services more accessible via its Wellbeing Investment Matching initiative.
1 Bupa, Children’s mental health: a parent’s guide [Accessed Feb 2020] https://assets.bupa.co.uk/~/media/files/business/corporate-pdfs/childrens-mental-health-a-parents-guide.pdf
2 CIPD, Health and well-being at work, April 2019 https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/culture/well-being/health-well-being-work
3 Bupa, data taken from a sample of calls to Bupa mental health nurses in 2018 – data taken from video embedded on this page https://www.bupa.co.uk/health/health-insurance/mental-health/family
4 Mental Health Foundation, Children and young people, https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/c/children-and-young-people