Social exclusion, the closure of daycare centers and schools, and job insecurity combined to produce conditions at home and in the workplace that have never been seen before the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has had major effects on employees’ mental health. Expanded roles in the workplace and caregiving at home have left many overwhelmed, Judith Plotkin noted in the January/February issue of Plans & Trusts.

“Prior to COVID-19, employees were suffering from undertreated mental health issues, and our mental health treatment infrastructure was overburdened. One in five of us will likely have a mental health issue in our lifetime. The pressures, anxiety and isolation that resulted from a global pandemic exacerbated the frequency of mental illness among us as well as the already critical challenges of accessing care. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide.”

Managing the Demands of Parenting and Work Responsibilities

A recent survey of 3,000 working parents across the U.S. “found that six in ten respondents were ‘very’ to ‘extremely’ concerned about their children’s emotional health and behavior in the past two years,” Plotkin wrote. 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 children’s mental or emotional well-being made the stresses of work much more difficult to cope with.” Many parents expressed concerns that the loss of in-person school had a negative impact on their children’s mental health.

A survey conducted by Verywell Mind of children between ages 8-12 or 13-17 also found the pandemic created a number of new stressors:

  • 60% of parents said their child’s mental health has been at least somewhat affected by the pandemic.
  • 36% observed mood and behavior changes.
  • 37% observed that their child has a harder time socializing.

One of the bigger stressors for kids is also a major constant in their lives—school.

Concern Over Children’s Well-Being

Plotkin observed that for many parents, dealing with their children’s mental health has meant they miss work to manage multiple appointments. Others are managing the stress of not being able to find resources to set up appointments and much-needed aid. Many have reported that waiting lists for children’s mental health support are growing rapidly.  

The researchers in the Sick Children Hospital study found that “families who were already vulnerable before the pandemic, for example those with lower household income and parental education rates, were disproportionately impacted by economic hardship as a result of the pandemic, such as job loss and food insecurity. These families experienced higher levels of both child and caregiver mental health symptoms and stress. For all families, caregiver mental health and family functioning were impacted by their children’s mental health difficulties and vice versa,” wrote Plotkin.

Across both Canada and the United States, the impact of COVID-19-related isolation and subsequent stress and depression has left parents concerned and struggling to find resources and treatment for children.

“Leading medical groups have declared a national emergency in the U.S. for child and adolescent mental health, with parents experiencing heightened stress.” Managing the demands of parenting and work responsibilities has become more difficult. Spouses are more likely to struggle and even experience their own mental health challenges when a child or other family member is unwell, Plotkin noted.

Next Steps

Verywell Mind’s survey revealed a novel idea that won strong support of harried parents and burnt-out children: a mental health day for kids and parents.

  • 75% say they can be an effective tool to support a child’s mental health.
  • 74% believe that schools should offer mental health days.
  • 56% of parents have let their kids take a mental health day, and another 32% would consider it

“The pandemic, canceled activities and remote learning contributed to an increasing kids’ mental health crisis, prompting many states to permit kids to take mental health days from school so they could focus on managing their symptoms,” said Amy Morin, LCSW, editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind.  

The respondents concluded that whether their child spent the day talking about their feelings, being in nature, playing video games or simply relaxing, the time off provided a valuable opportunity to reset.

There are practical considerations for why some parents can’t miss work or pay for unexpected child care for a day of rest. While there may not be a one-size-fits all solution, adaptability and understanding are crucial.  With the growing awareness of mental health issues, children can benefit from the same understanding and flexibility.

“Challenges like socioeconomic status and lingering stigmas still prevent widespread use. Our survey results show the beginning of parents’ acceptance of mental health days, which gives us hope that more parents and schools will follow suit,” concluded Morin.

Tim Hennessy

Editor, at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans  Favorite Foundation Product: Plans & Trusts Benefits-related topics that interest him the most: retirement security and mental health Personal Insights: Tim enjoys spending time with his family, watching movies, reading, writing, and running.

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