Brightline offers psychological well being assist for youngsters and youths

The worst of the pandemic may be receding, but the troubling aftereffects on our mental health are just now coming into focus.

Adolescent mental health issues skyrocketed throughout the pandemic. As parents and employers alike scramble to find and provide necessary resources, this is just the start of a long road ahead, says Naomi Allen, founder and CEO of Brightline, a behavioral health care platform.

“If you’re trying to navigate getting your child support or services, or just navigating their mental health challenges by yourself, it’s an incredibly challenging thing,” Allen says. “If you don’t have a solution for youth and pediatric mental health, then there’s going to be real implications to workforce productivity and retention.”

Read more: Telehealth platforms tackle rising rates of adolescent mental health challenges

Since the start of the pandemic, Brightline has seen a 640% increase in demand for their services, which provides behavioral health coaching and helps parents find more intensive mental health resources for their children. Allen spoke to EBN about the current state of adolescent mental health, and how the conversation around balancing work and family needs to change to better support working parents.

What’s the current situation when it comes to adolescent mental health?
There’s a continued worsening of youth mental health. We saw an early awareness last year, but now I think there’s this real deluge of the data coming in around youth anxiety, youth loneliness and early signs of depression, increased rates of suicidality amongst almost every gender and race. There’s also increased fragility around populations that, historically, have had less access to resources around mental health. In particular, the LGBTQ and the BIPOC communities have had increased risk of anxiety, depression and suicidality.

I do think the good news is there’s much greater awareness and greater discussion. The Senate finance committee is trying to unlock the budget around mental health. Biden’s State of the Union talked about youth mental health. The Surgeon General is talking about the youth mental health crisis. So there’s this pretty radical increase in awareness and acknowledging that this is something that we need to put real political capital behind. But certainly, I think we’re going to be shoveling ourselves out of this hole for a long time.

Often the people holding the shovels are the parents, who in many cases are also struggling with mental health issues, too. What impact does that have?
The data is starting to show that we have a youth mental health crisis, and a crisis in terms of people dropping out of the workforce at the same time. Those things are definitely related. Last year, we ran a survey and we found that one in five working parents had either quit or planned to quit their jobs within 12 months, just because of their kid’s mental health. That just really speaks to the notion that if you’re trying to navigate getting your child support or services, or just navigating their mental health challenges by yourself, it’s an incredibly challenging thing.

Read: How these 3 moms survived as caregivers working in healthcare

The good news is that employers are definitely recognizing that if you don’t have a solution for youth and pediatric mental health, then there’s going to be real implications to workforce productivity and retention. We saw a 640% increase in demand for Brightline services from employers last year. Employers recognize this interwoven dynamic between pediatric mental health and parent and caregiver productivity in the workforce.

Naomi Allen, CEO of Brightline

Employers are offering these services — are employees more comfortable utilizing them?
I think there’s less stigma for working parents to ask employers for services for their kids than for themselves. Pre-COVID, we surveyed a few hundred working parents and we asked, if you could have a mental health benefit for yourself or for your child, who would you pick? And 75% of working parents picked a mental health benefit for their child. We’re in the midst of a productive change and recognition among HR and benefit executives around just how inextricably linked workforce productivity is with pediatric and family well-being.

There are the employers who are saying, mental health is so important, we really need to support these parents, and then on the other hand, we want to get back to work and get back to normal. How can they strike a better balance for their business and their employees’ needs?
We’re seeing such a distribution around employers and workforce perceptions around what the new productivity looks like. And in fairness, you and I can do our jobs very effectively working from home, but certainly there are real companies for whom that’s much harder. But I also just think there’s legacy mindsets and behaviors around employers who either don’t fully trust their employees to be productive, or don’t feel like they can adapt their workforce model to a distributed environment.

Read more: ‘I was just a daughter and a mother’: Sandwich caregivers struggled to manage it all

This transition phase — where employers are trying to figure it out and families don’t have enough resources and services to support their kids’ mental health, or frankly, even their own mental health — is the hardest phase that we’re going to go through. I cannot imagine the ways that families are going to navigate this if they have to return full-time to an office. I am hopeful that the vast majority of the workforce will have some flexibility, and that flexibility will afford a family the ability to support their kids and their own mental health in a way that we never envisioned possible before.

What does the ‘perfect’ workplace or benefit package look like for parents who need pediatric mental health support?
If you’re looking for pediatric behavioral health services as an individual, you’re 10 times more likely to have to go out of network than you would for primary care. So first and foremost, it’s self-insured employers really demanding that insurance companies get their act together and put pediatric mental health services in-network and create coverage models for inclusive assessments and diagnoses and testing. Then step two is creating a culture of flexibility for the workforce to be able to actually use those resources. Pediatric mental health is not like adult mental health, where I can be in an office working nine to five and hop into a conference room and have my therapy session. When you’re talking about pediatric mental health, there is a level of coordination and logistics of a parent or caregiver taking their child to school or doing a virtual appointment with them or to that therapy office.

Employers also should be creating a workforce culture around de-stigmatizing mental health services, through employee resource groups and communities. There’s an opportunity here for employers to lean in with resources and community in ways that maybe they haven’t thought about before. If we’re serious about addressing this, we need to create the types of support that working parents need.

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