EAPS can help address children's mental health – Employee Benefit News

EAPS can help address children's mental health – Employee Benefit News

More than half of U.S. children and teens are struggling with mental health issues after the pandemic. As if that number wasn’t troubling enough, only 8% are likely to get help. The reasons are many: Self-stigma. Little understanding of what to do or where to turn. Limited access to aid.
Fortunately, therapists, Employee Assistance Programs and other mental health providers are expanding their services and reaching out to younger populations. However, it is difficult to deliver widespread counseling to children in an epidemic of need. One path that is proving to be successful is to also provide support for those closest to youngsters — their parents. 
Read more: Your mental health benefits should cover your employees’ kids, too
The more secure the well-being of the parents, the better their ability to address the well-being of their offspring. However, when facing a mental health challenge, parents often don’t know where to begin. That’s where top-tier EAPs can make a notable difference. EAPs maintain a workplace presence, so they are well positioned to offer parents easily accessible support from coaches, counselors, parent educators, and work-life specialists. 
Coming together to address a critical need 
Recently, members of the National Behavioral Consortium (NBC), a think tank trade association of top-tier EAPs that serve more than 30 million lives, held a town hall forum to address this crucial concern. NBC members shared experiences, insights, and service innovations related to the provision of mental health assistance to parents and their children.
One observation shared by all NBC members? The intensity of calls regarding young children has increased dramatically — and continues to remain high. NBC member Mitchell Best, Chief Executive Officer of VITAL WorkLife in Minneapolis, MN, reported that calls for children before COVID typically concerned young adults. Today, VITAL WorkLife has a broadening caseload involving children ages 4 to 10.
Not surprisingly, the number of EAP services available to parents is increasing as well, as are referrals related to psychiatrists and medication. Parent coaching is also on the rise, with companies like VITAL partnering with specialists to provide sub-clinical support on a short-term basis.
Read more: Employees don’t have to sacrifice their mental health to be good caregivers 
“Through our own network plus our partnerships, we’re meeting a wide range of parenting needs,” says Kristin Matthews, chief clinical officer for KGA, a a Southborough, MA-based EAP that recently partnered with Brightline, a virtual behavioral and mental health care provider specializing in families. “For example, we now have a program for parents of children on the spectrum from 18 months to 11 years old, as well as specialty coaching. Let’s say a parent is stressing over a meeting about her child’s Individualized Education Program. Where is that mom going to turn for help?”
The answer, hopefully, is to top-tier EAPs, therapists, and other mental health experts. But another source of parental assistance has recently been growing at a remarkable rate — support groups.  
Concerned parents recognizing — and rescuing — each other
Almost all NBC members have instituted parenting support groups in live and virtual formats. These include employee-led sessions called Employee Resource Groups, which foster inclusivity and help build community within the workplace. 
Read more: Telehealth platforms tackle rising rates of adolescent mental health challenges
“As an EAP, we were able to quickly connect with the ERGs hosted by our client organizations, so they could almost immediately begin helping the parents in their workforce,” says Mary Doughterty-Hunt, senior vice president at Carebridge Corporation in Malvern, PA. “ERGs allow employees to discuss children and parenting in an open, peer-to-peer environment without judgment. Clients tell us these sessions have been life-savers.” 
The Mass General Brigham (MGB) EAP, which serves approximately 80,000 employees across a world-leading health care system, sponsors a monthly virtual “Mother’s Group,” to support working moms in balancing work and motherhood in this competitive academic medical setting. According to the EAP’s Senior Clinical Manager, Henri Menco, this group provides a forum for mothers with children of all ages, to learn from experts and share with colleagues. It has been well-received with a regular and growing following and across 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, healthy mind, and anxiety), special education and having difficult conversations with their children.  The informal sessions offer both educational and interactive (question and answer) components.
Whatever affects the child affects the family
As every family knows, the issues of one family member soon become the challenges of all. When the pandemic forced multiple generations into relentlessly sharing the same space or separated them for months on end, previously unseen pressures emerged and existing pressures worsened for many.
This contributed to a national spike in substance abuse, with the National Institutes of Health citing a 60% increase in alcohol consumption during COVID, including a 21% climb in binge drinking. In addition to stress, alcohol availability and boredom were key drivers. 
Read more: Will apps be the future of mental health?
“We are seeing significantly more calls related to issues with a multigenerational impact,” says Jim Kinville, Senior Director at UPMC Health Plan, an NBC top-tier EAP from Pittsburgh, PA. “Challenges like substance abuse create a growing need for family discussion, and, in severe cases, intervention, because everyone in the family is affected.”
An app a day as part of a greater solution 
NBC members also offer a variety of digital mental health apps that are easily accessible via mobile phone, tablet, and desktop systems. These platforms offer exceptional convenience and are often integrated with live assistance. However, an app alone without a concierge  connection will be unable to assist parents with underlying stressors, such as finding day care or getting legal and financial advice, which top-tier EAPs can do. Additionally, questions remain about the effectiveness of digital tools in a crisis situation, such as a child with suicidal thoughts.
Preventing concerns from becoming crises
COVID pressures led NBC’s EAPs to redouble their efforts around suicide prevention. According to the NIH, in 2019, suicide claimed the lives of more than 500 children between the ages of 10 and 14, and close to 6,000 young adults between 15 and 24.
“Those numbers were reported at the start of the pandemic,” adds Lisa Desai, Chief Behavioral Health Officer at MindWise Innovations of Brookline, MA. “COVID really shined a spotlight on suicide prevention programs like our SOS service, which trains teachers, students, and parents to identify the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide, and direct them to ACT (Acknowledge-Care-Tell) when concerned about themselves or another student. We also offer practical tips for discussing suicidal concerns with children. More than just a service, this is our responsibility as a mental health provider.”
Knowing where to turn makes a difference
The isolation and anxiety created by the pandemic continue to ripple through the lives of children and parents. Yet a significant number of those affected are unsure about where to turn or what to do. NBC members continually work to expand 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-tier EAPs offer a safe harbor among today’s uncertain and frightening emotional waters. With an EAP at their side, those who are unable or unwilling to cope with a flood of emotion will find someone who can compassionately guide them toward solid ground.
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