Supporting parents worried about their children’s mental health

Gosia Bowling from Nuffield Health outlines how the mental health problems of young people are affecting working parents and how employers can help.

Overwhelmed man sits on sofa with head in hands surrounded by boxes


Parents are becoming more anxious about their children’s mental health than ever before.

This is completely understandable when the number of children being referred to emergency mental health care in the UK has reportedly sky-rocketed, increasing by 53 percent in the last year alone.

Findings from Nuffield Health’s Healthier Nation Index – a survey of 8,000 UK adults – also identified that people with children cited mental health as one of the most present health challenges amongst their friends and family. This was particularly true for parents with children under 18 living at home.

Caregivers concern over children’s mental health can lead to anxiety, lack of sleep, reduced focus, stress, and low mood. All of these can affect wellbeing and productivity, both in workers personal and professional lives. We also know that parents in the workplace dealing with children’s mental health issues are more likely to take absence days from work at short notice to support their family.

Given that poor mental health is a major contributor to decreased productivity at work, costing the global economy $1 trillion each year, businesses should create ‘parental pillars’ so that parents going through difficulties in their personal lives feel supported at work.

Informing parents and caregivers about relevant employee support should be a business priority, a sentiment reflected in Nuffield Health’s recent findings. 69 percent of working parents agree that it is in an employer’s interests to support employees to stay well, while 67 percent think their employer bears some responsibility for their health and wellbeing.

So, what ‘parental pillars’ can businesses put in place?

#1 Provide mental health support
Giving parents and caregivers relevant employee support, at key times, should be a business priority.

Employee mental health support services such as CBT, counselling or Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can be used to assist employees dealing with personal difficulties that might negatively affect their work performance, health, and wellbeing. Support services usually include assessment, short-term support and referral services for employees and their immediate families.

With 43 percent of respondents in the Healthier Nation Index reporting they get less* sleep and 46 percent admitting they get low** quality sleep, sleep disturbances can be aided with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – an evidence-based approach that helps people recognise and break unhelpful patterns which can result in disturbed sleep.

If your organisation doesn’t have access to qualified mental health support, be prepared to deliver a list of specialist charities and statutory services they can call for support instead.

#2 Promote further education
Many parents may find great value in additional education or training to understand how best to support their children’s mental health.

Online platforms, which provide digital, on-demand, health and wellbeing advice for caregivers can be a useful employee benefit as they provide education and tools to help families understand and manage during difficult times.

For example, Nuffield Health provides ‘Supporting an Anxious Teen’ and ‘Supporting an Anxious Child’ programmes, in partnership with SilverCloud, offering support and teachings for parents and carers of anxious young people, with topics including Changing Anxiety and Facing Fears.

These can be provided to staff along with the reassurance they are permitted to work through the modules at their own pace during work hours.

#3 Encourage healthy conversations
According to a recent poll, many are still on the fence when it comes to feeling comfortable discussing their own mental health with colleagues due to stigma, judgment, lack of conversation and seeming weak.

However, it’s important that employees going through situations at home are supported through personal issues that might be affecting them at work.

Put foundations in place in the form of regular 1-1’s or group discussions, where employees can open up about what they’re going through or seek advice from others on how to cope with shared experiences such as how to support children with mental health issues.

Creating a culture where working parents can speak openly about their struggles at work and at home will help create an environment that’s free from stigma and helps them find sources of helpful support.

#4 Make reasonable adjustments
As employees navigate their children’s mental health issues, they may require some adjustments to their work hours or workloads.

Consider offering flexible working solutions to parents so they can better balance their professional and personal lives, adapt their schedules to access medical appointments and be more present in both roles. In turn, the balance will reduce stress, improve sleep, enhance overall well-being, and foster better job satisfaction.

To ensure employees are not overwhelmed by their responsibilities at this time, businesses should regularly review the distribution of tasks and responsibilities among team members. Open and consistent communication with employees helps gauge their stress levels and capacity. Encouraging staff to provide feedback about their workload, whether it feels too heavy, just right, or manageable, is essential for maintaining a balanced and satisfying work environment.

Adopting ‘parental pillars’ which support your staff’s families help lessen stress, advocate a better work-life balance, and have further consequent gains for workplace productivity, engagement, and wellbeing.

Gosia Bowling is National Lead for Mental Health at Nuffield Health.

*43 percent of respondents that reported getting less sleep combines those who answered, ‘I get slightly less sleep’ and ‘I get much less sleep’.

**46 percent of respondents that reported having low sleep quality combines those who answered, ‘I get much lower sleep quality’ and ‘I get slightly lower sleep quality’.

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