Abundant Life | Manifestation Affirmations

Teenager is not alright and it's stressing your workforce

The kids are not alright and it's stressing your workforce

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A mental health crisis in today’s youth did not begin with the COVID pandemic, but the last two years certainly exposed and accelerated it. It's why The Surgeon General’s Youth Mental Health Advisory is both a call to action and a cry from the heart. One in three high school students reported “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness”—up 40% since 2009. The report points to “adverse living conditions” producing “toxic stress.” You might expect that children are naturally mentally resilient. The data says otherwise. In fact, the WHO describes the COVID pandemic as a mass trauma event on the scale of a world war.

So who, or what, is to blame? To be blunt, it doesn’t matter. Trying to tie the negative trends to societal events—fraying social cohesion, fears of climate change, religion or its decline, distrust of systems and institutions—is endlessly fascinating but practically unhelpful.

A better question is, what can we do? And the answer is, surprisingly, quite a lot. Just as medical science and technology interrupted the deadlier versions of COVID, psychological science and technology offer insights and tools that can change the course of the mental wellness trend. 

“We need to recognize and address the crisis in children’s mental health or else we put another generation at risk for a lifetime of untreated trauma, depression, anxiety and addiction,” former Representative Patrick Kennedy—a meQuilibrium advisor— recently told me. “That means the government, academia, the health care community, workplaces and parents need to deploy resources now and quickly evolve our approaches. I can’t think of a better use of advanced technology and training."

Despite all the knowledge we’ve gained about how the mind works—how thoughts drive emotions and behaviors, and the ways our thinking patterns distort our perceptions of people, challenges, and risks—most people are never taught the fundamentals of healthy psychology. We expect a high school graduate will be able to solve an algebraic equation or describe the parts of a cell, but we don’t expect them to be able to understand why one of their friends might be afraid to speak up in class or another just seems angry all the time, or whether their feelings of threat are warranted or habitual, or conditioned by social media.

And we don’t teach people that, while some people’s issues only respond to professional and medicinal treatment, general mental wellbeing is a set of skills that can be learned—skills that are critical to adapting in an increasingly complex world. Understanding how the mind works, identifying our thoughts and recognizing thinking styles can give us control over how we react and feel.

We need to prepare young people and the adults in their lives with the essential tools for mental wellbeing. It’s necessary to prepare them for a world of unrelenting change and disruption no matter what social strata you are in. Learning how to be mentally resilient is as critical as learning the basics of math or how to read and write.

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As an employer, it’s important to support an employee whose family members are not faring well. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s a business imperative: deteriorating mental health is noted as one of the leading global risks by leaders in the recent WEF Global risks report. Deloitte research says more than 50% of CEOs plan to increase spending on mental wellbeing. 

Which leads to a focus on the next generation. Worry about family is a top stressor and a top focus of concern for the workforce. One third of the U.S. workforce, or an estimated 50 million workers, has a child under 14 in their household. 

meQ’s data shows as of January 2022, 73% of members—employed adults working for Fortune 1000 companies—identify family as a significant stressor. Family stress is identified more often than success, health, relationships, job and finances—any other stressor. It directly affects focus, productivity, presenteeism—pretty much every aspect of workforce engagement. And, while many parenting concerns are distracting, I can tell you that nothing is as distracting as knowing that your child is struggling with mental wellness. It’s invisible, amorphous, changeable, and there is no single treatment.  

For our workforces and their families, it’s not too late to address this basic gap in education and skill-building. Understanding just the basics of psychology can thwart the start of a downward spiral, help people interact happily with others, and give them skills to right-size and address challenges. 

The COVID pandemic has us all thinking about good public health practices and their impact on our workforces. As employers, we can take matters into our own hands in three fundamental ways. First, we can address the stigma that still remains around mental wellness. Second, we can provide a supportive environment. Third, we can help our employees become skilled at  preparing for and preventing mental wellness challenges.

Employers have stepped up and are offering this kind of support to their workforce, many taking advantage of digital solutions. This helps their employees help themselves—and it equips them to help their families. With some simple psychological skills, maybe our kids can be alright after all.