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When mental health issues hit at home, employers feel the impact, too

May 11, 2022, 7:53 PM UTC

Americans’ mental health has taken a hit over the last two years. But it’s not just adults. Teens and children are experiencing higher rates of stress, anxiety, behavioral issues and depression as well. Suspected suicide attempts among teenage girls, for example, were 51% higher in early 2021 than during the same time period in 2019. 

New research from Cigna finds that those mental health challenges among children can impact parents both at home and work. “If you have a mental health need, a behavioral need amongst a child, there’s a high correlation to an adult and their productivity, their presenteeism and the retention at work,” David Cordani, chairman and CEO of Cigna, said Wednesday during Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference

About 80% of working parents surveyed by Cigna reported their teens experienced some type of new or increased mental health challenge as a result of the pandemic. Yet getting their children the help they need can be its own stressful experience. About six in 10 parents say they’ve faced difficulties finding a mental health provider for their teenager within a reasonable amount of time. 

But while children’s issues can have a negative effect on their parents’ mental health and wellbeing, these challenges also become an employer problem because challenges at home do extend into the workplace. 

“The impact of what’s happening in the families in the lives of the children is dramatically impacting the employees,”  Arianna Huffington, CEO of Thrive Global, said Wednesday. “The two things cannot be disconnected.”

Nearly one in five working parents surveyed by Cigna reported that dealing with their teenagers’ mental health needs had a negative impact on their performance and productivity at work. About 14% reported leaving the workforce. Not a great outcome when the U.S. is currently experiencing a worker shortage in many sectors.

“If you’re dealing with a mental health challenge with a loved one, a child at home, [there’s] a higher probability of that individual either needing more flexibility, needing more support, or leaving the workforce,” Cordani said. “We can’t have a healthy, thriving employer without healthy, productive, present, highly engaged individuals.”

The solution, Cordani said, is that companies like Cigna need to bring customized products, programs and services closer to the families in need, and their children, through employer and the benefits offered. But beyond that, employers also need to foster a company culture that values mental health and provide flexibility as much as possible to employees that need it.

When it comes down to it, “employers are now also running a health care business,” Huffington said. 

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