EAPS can help improve children’s mental health

More than half of children and young people in the US are struggling with mental health problems in the wake of the pandemic. As if that number wasn’t worrying enough, only 8% are likely to get help. The reasons are manifold: Self-stigmatization. Little understanding of what to do or where to turn. Limited access to help.

Fortunately, therapists, employee support programs, and other mental health providers are expanding their services and reaching younger populations. However, it is difficult to provide comprehensive counseling to children in an epidemic of need. One way that is proving successful is to also support those closest to the youngsters – their parents.

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The safer the well-being of the parents is, the better they can look after the well-being of their offspring. However, when parents face a psychological challenge, they often don’t know where to start. This is where top-of-the-line EAPs can make a remarkable difference. EAPs have a workplace presence and are therefore well positioned to offer parents easily accessible support through coaches, counselors, parenting educators and work-life specialists.

Coming together to meet a critical need
Recently, members of the National Behavioral Consortium (NBC), a think-tank trade association of top-level EAPs who help more than 30 million people, hosted a citizen forum to address this critical concern. NBC members shared experiences, insights, and service innovations related to providing mental health support to parents and their children.

An observation shared by all NBC members? The intensity of calls related to young children has increased dramatically – and remains high. NBC member Mitchell Best, chief executive officer of VITAL WorkLife in Minneapolis, MN, reported that pre-COVID calls for children were typically young adults. Today, VITAL WorkLife has a growing number of cases involving children aged 4 to 10 years.

Not surprisingly, the number of EAP services available to parents is also increasing, as are psychiatrist and medication referrals. Parent coaching is also on the rise, with companies like VITAL working with specialists to provide short-term sub-clinical support.

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“Through our own network and partnerships, we serve a wide range of parenting needs,” said Kristin Matthews, Chief Clinical Officer for KGA, a Southborough, MA-based EAP that recently partnered with Brightline, a virtual behavioral health company. and mental health, is addressed to family care services. “For example, we now have a program for parents of children aged 18 months to 11 years, as well as special coaching. Suppose a parent is concerned about a meeting about their child’s Individualized Education Program. Who will this mother go to for help?”

Hopefully, the answer lies with senior EAPs, therapists, and other mental health professionals. But another source of parenting support has grown at a remarkable rate lately – support groups.

Concerned parents recognize – and rescue – each other
Almost all NBC members have set up parent support groups in live and virtual formats. This includes employee-led sessions, known as Employee Resource Groups, that promote inclusion and help build community in the workplace.

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“As the EAP, we were able to quickly connect to the ERGs hosted by our client organizations so they could begin helping parents in their workforce almost immediately,” said Mary Doughterty-Hunt, senior vice president at Carebridge Corporation in Malvern, PA. “ERGs allow employees to discuss children and parenting in an open, nonjudgmental, nonjudgmental environment. Clients tell us these sessions have saved lives.”

Mass General Brigham (MGB) EAP, which serves approximately 80,000 workers in a world-leading healthcare system, sponsors a monthly virtual “mothers’ group” to help working mothers balance work and motherhood in this competitive academic medical environment. According to EAP Senior Clinical Manager Henri Menco, this group provides a forum for mothers with children of all ages to learn from experts and connect with peers. It has been well received with a regular and growing following and throughout the system. Monthly facilitated sessions often include internal and external experts and cover a variety of topics including emotional and behavioral health (social media, stress, sane mind and anxiety), special education and difficult conversations with their children. The informal sessions feature both educational and interactive (question and answer) components.

What affects the child affects the family
As every family knows, one family member’s problems quickly become everyone’s challenges. As the pandemic forced multiple generations to relentlessly share the same space, or kept them apart for months, previously unseen pressures emerged for many and the existing pressures intensified.

This contributed to a national spike in substance abuse, with the National Institutes of Health citing a 60% increase in alcohol use during COVID, including a 21% increase in binge drinking. In addition to stress, the availability of alcohol and boredom were the main drivers.

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“We’re seeing significantly more calls related to multi-generational issues,” said Jim Kinville, senior director at UPMC Health Plan, a premier Pittsburgh, PA-based NBC EAP. “Challenges such as substance abuse are leading to a growing need for family discussion and, in severe cases, intervention as all family members are affected.”

An app every day as part of a larger solution
NBC members also offer a variety of digital mental health apps that are easily accessible across mobile phones, tablets, and desktop systems. These platforms offer exceptional convenience and are often integrated with live support. However, an app alone without a concierge connection cannot support parents with underlying stressors, e.g. B. finding daycare or getting legal and financial advice, which is what top-notch EAPs can do. In addition, questions remain about the effectiveness of digital tools in a crisis situation, such as a child with suicidal thoughts.

Prevent worries from turning into crises
COVID pressures prompted NBC’s EAPs to redouble their suicide prevention efforts. According to the NIH, suicide in 2019 claimed the lives of more than 500 children between the ages of 10 and 14 and nearly 6,000 young adults between the ages of 15 and 24.

“These numbers were reported to the beginning of the pandemic,” adds Lisa Desai, Chief Behavioral Health Officer at MindWise Innovations of Brookline, MA. “COVID has really put the spotlight on suicide prevention programs like our SOS service, which trains teachers, students and parents to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide and refer them to ACT (Acknowledge-Care-Tell) if they are concerned to make yourself or another student. We also offer practical tips for talking to children about suicidal thoughts. This is more than just a service, this is our responsibility as a mental health provider.”

Knowing where to turn makes a difference
The isolation and fear caused by the pandemic continues to permeate the lives of children and parents. But many of those affected are unsure who to turn to or what to do. NBC members continually work to increase awareness of their mental health services throughout their clients’ workforces.

The organization also encourages any struggling employee who has an EAP to use it without pause or question. Top-notch EAPs offer a safe haven in today’s uncertain and daunting emotional waters. With an EAP by their side, those who cannot or do not want to deal with a flood of emotions will find someone who will compassionately guide them to solid ground.

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