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Working parents and kids' mental health: Workplace trends, July 2022

Children's mental health issues create new needs for working parents.

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The pressure on working parents seems to grow exponentially when their kids have mental health issues. The sheer number of hours it takes to find and participate in their care, not to mention the emotional drain, can easily divert attention away from client projects and career goals.

I recently discussed these challenges with psychologist Julia Corcoran, director of clinical strategy and experience at Modern Health, which connects employees at participating companies with therapy, coaching, and digital resources addressing mental health. Not all of Modern Health’s clients extend these benefits to dependents, but increasingly they do. From the start of 2022 through early May, the number of dependents under age 18 using Modern Health’s therapy offerings jumped 360% from the same period last year. (Disclosure: Quartz is serving as a media partner to the company’s Modern Health Heroes awards program.)

Corcoran offers some great advice about what kind of support parents need from employers when a mental health crisis arises at home, and where they can turn if they don’t have employer-based access to help. Here’s an excerpt from our interview:

Quartz: We know the mental health crisis among kids has only worsened in the pandemic. I’m wondering what, if anything, employers could or should be doing as a result.

Corcoran: If we take sort of the mildest possible case, say we have a child or a teen who needs to get to a weekly therapy appointment, there are logistics—they have to get there somehow. But really good treatment is also going to involve some amount of checking in with the parents, depending on the child’s age and needs. So one or both parents really need to be present for some of those therapy sessions. Or, we might be having family sessions, and we might be having meetings with teachers or for IEPs so that we can get special accommodations at school. And then things really just go up from there, all the way up to kids who need to be hospitalized, or maybe they’re in intensive outpatient programs that are several hours a day. Those almost invariably involve the parents coming for probably a couple hours out of their workweek.

If you have a kid who is self-harming, or who is suicidal or potentially having those thoughts, then you also need to be able to drop everything and go help them stay safe at any moment. So, flexibility in terms of when the parent can check in and out of work—it’s just absolutely critical. You cannot function as a parent in these situations if you don’t have an employer who is willing to let you cut out of a meeting early or plug in later because you need to check on your child.

There are still so many parents who don’t have that sort of flexibility. Are we entrenching inequality when we allow this stuff to become a workplace benefit? Is there a risk to society that we’re splitting even further into haves and have-nots?

I could not agree with that more. If they have the money, then parents might pay someone to get the child to the appointment. Or maybe they’re lucky enough to have family or a neighbor or someone else to help. But that still is cutting the child’s experience very short in that treatment because the parent really does need to be there for some of it.

If you happen to have resources, you can probably make this work. But that’s really not, I don’t think, an acceptable way for us in society to be caring for children. There needs to be a safety net that goes beyond employers, that goes beyond the individual parent’s circumstances.

What’s your advice to parents who don’t have dependent-care mental health benefits yet find their children in need?

Depending on where you live, there may be community clinics that can serve folks that either don’t have insurance or have insurance that doesn’t include mental health benefits. A lot of times they’re staffed with newer therapists. But there’s evidence to show that even newer, trainee therapists can make a big difference. Remember, they’re highly supervised and they’re very motivated to do well.

If you can, find online modules for dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT. It’s going to be much better if you can do it with a therapist, but if focuses a lot on emotion regulation, connecting with others, distress tolerance. Even as a therapist learning DBT, I remember thinking, “Wow, I wish I’d learned these skills when I was 10.”

And especially if your kid is a little isolated, see if there’s anything that can get them to connect with people, ideally offline: an art class, swimming, Dungeons & Dragons. We know that social support is one of the most important things for improving our mental health.

Be sure to read my full interview with Corcoran for more on what working parents, and their employers, ought to know about handling childhood and teen mental health issues.—Heather Landy

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Today, more than ever, purpose has risen to the top of leadership agendas. Leaders and change makers are sparking disruption and challenging all of us to step up to help shape a more equitable future. This means a willingness to have the hard conversations – deepening our understanding and committing to action. Learn more and get uncomfortable with Jimmy Etheredge, CEO – North America, Accenture, and Emmanuel Acho, FS1 Sports Analyst & New York Times Bestselling Author and a host of unexpected guests, as they tackle tough topics that require our attention to ignite change.Advertisement

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30-second case study

To reach its goal of cutting its carbon emissions to zero by 2040, Salesforce will have to find more climate-friendly forms of business travel. In 2019, the software giant generated 146,000 metric tons of carbon emissions—roughly equal to the annual emissions of 18,000 US homes, or 60% of the carbon generated at Salesforce’s data centers—just by flying employees around the world to client meetings and conferences.

Enter the sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, certificate. Salesforce is one of dozens of companies experimenting with the concept, which is meant to give business travelers a way to book carbon-neutral flights. The World Economic Forum has backed the concept and is designing an accounting framework that would allow airlines to sell SAF certificates to their biggest corporate clients.

Airlines and their biggest corporate travel clients have been testing out the concept since 2021. Last year, 11 companies including Boston Consulting Group, Nike, and HP bought enough SAF certificates from United Airlines to subsidize the purchase of about 3.4 million gallons of SAF (about 0.1% of United’s fuel consumption). In February, JetBlue announced four companies including Salesforce will buy enough SAF certificates to subsidize 325,000 gallons of SAF (0.05% of JetBlue’s 2021 fuel consumption).

The takeaway: Right now, sustainable aviation fuel accounts for less than 0.1% of the fuel used in commercial flights because it’s more expensive than standard jet fuel and supply is very limited. But if there were an economic incentive for manufacturers to produce more SAF and for airlines to buy more of it, the aviation industry could cut its carbon emissions considerably. And if the program is designed well enough—with transparency, oversight, and clear accounting—a company like Salesforce could buy SAF certificates and meaningfully reduce its business travel emissions to zero.

Quotable

In a recent piece for Quartz, Judy Samuelson, head of the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program, concludes that employees—more so than executives or investors—will have the most influential voice on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues:

Be they gigging freelancers or benefitted full-timers, employees are not-so-silent witnesses to myriad decisions about product design, procurement of supplies, protocols on hiring and pay, and management of people and natural resources.
Employees understand the customer, the cost of externalities, and whether intentions and execution are linked. They bridge internal and external pressures. They are allies in the long game, and they are not inclined to stay quiet when they witness back-tracking on public commitments and pronouncements on climate, or on human rights, or when the political action committee spends money to ensure access to a politician who is working against bedrock values.

Quartz is on the ground at the Aspen Institute ESG Summit this week in Colorado. The event is by invitation only, but select sessions are being streamed online

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Today, more than ever, purpose has risen to the top of leadership agendas. Leaders and change makers are sparking disruption and challenging all of us to step up to help shape a more equitable future. This means a willingness to have the hard conversations – deepening our understanding and committing to action. Learn more and get uncomfortable with Jimmy Etheredge, CEO – North America, Accenture, and Emmanuel Acho, FS1 Sports Analyst & New York Times Bestselling Author and a host of unexpected guests, as they tackle tough topics that require our attention to ignite change.Advertisement

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