Protecting Youth Mental Health: How Employers Can Support Young People Now

Youth mental health is finally receiving the spotlight it deserves, from the Surgeon General’s new guidelines to major New York Times pieces to celebrity advocacy. Yet the numbers are still moving in the wrong direction, with alarming increases in depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts. As our society rallies to meet this challenge, employers can play a vital role in helping to drive progress.

Youth mental health has spiraled into a crisis. A recent research analysis including over 80,000 youth globally, found that depression and anxiety symptoms doubled during the pandemic. In early 2021, emergency department visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls compared to the same time period in early 2019.

These trends are unacceptable and unsustainable. From policymakers to filmmakers, leaders are stepping up to take action. Last June, Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness, a documentary produced by Ken Burns and sponsored by One Mind, premiered on PBS. The documentary follows the lives of two dozen young people who are struggling with mental health and illustrates the ways that they cope with and overcome these barriers.

However, the conversation on youth mental health has largely left out one key player: employers. While it’s understandable that we don’t associate young people with the workplace, employers can actually play an important part, given their networks, resources, and influence. In fact, many organizations are already acting to support younger employees and employees with children, while contributing to a larger culture of mental health.

Just consider that Gen Z will make up 27% of the workforce in OECD countries by 2025. Mental health is a priority for this generation, which means it should be a priority for organizations that want to support and retain the next cohort of young workers. There are several strategies that employers can take:

· Provide mental health resources for employees and their children. Support geared towards children’s mental health can convert the workplace into a helpful resource center for families. This may include programs like pediatric therapy resources, support groups for working parents, direct education on youth mental health, and mental health support for families.

· Create a culture of well-being for workers and their families. If mental health is a priority at work, it’s more likely to show up as a priority for people’s families and networks. Organizational culture that destigmatizes mental health issues, while normalizing and encouraging getting help, can support the well-being of younger employees and employees’ children.

· Continuously assess and improve mental health programs. One Mind developed a Mental Health at Work Index to measure and improve workplace efforts. These indicators can guide progress on workplace mental health, with positive, cascading benefits for youth, children, and families.

Workplace mental health is not just limited to the workplace. Employees are siblings, parents, friends, and partners, belonging to crucial networks of support for their communities and loved ones. Strong mental health and well-being at work can have a ripple effect for their families and society at large.

The private sector can help to drive this conversation forward, while promoting and protecting youth mental health through their resources, benefits, and networks. Employers are one part of the solution; now, they must join together with other stakeholders to help young people thrive.

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