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18 Sep 2023
by Leslie Neitzel

How to tailor mental health support to parents and carers

Parenting and caring can be hugely draining, especially for people who also work full time. But employers can help

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One in seven employees in the UK are juggling work and caring for a loved one living with an illness or disability, according to Carers UK. While different in many ways, caring and parenting both involve managing schedules, attending doctor’s appointments and prioritising someone else’s needs – leaving little time for addressing carers’ own mental health.

How parenting and caring affects mental health

Becoming a new parent is a life-changing experience, to say the least — and every day is different. Managing transitions like starting school, welcoming a new child, or caring for a child who is neurodivergent can all create additional challenges, too.

The stress of parenting can contribute to mental health issues, with research showing that around 68% of women and 57% of men with mental health problems in the UK are parents.

Mental health issues are also common among carers. A national survey by Carers UK revealed that 72% of carers reported experiencing mental health issues due to their caring role, with stress, anxiety, and depression the most common.

In another survey by the Mental Health Foundation, 78% of carers felt their mental health had suffered as a result of their caring responsibilities, with many feeling of socially isolated and overwhelmed.

Tailoring mental health support to parents and carers:

1. Make resources easy to access

Parents and carers have busy schedules, especially those who also work full time. Providing access to virtual support can help more parents and carers set up appointments during times that work for them. Virtual support could also include parenting and caring-specific self-care guides, meditation programmes, and educational resources.

Whatever your programme includes, make sure parents and carers know about it. Because of their dual responsibilities at home and at the office, they may not have the time to seek out resources. As well as including your resources in your intranet or benefits website, regularly share:

  • With relevant employee resource groups
  • During awareness events such as Carers Week in June or around school holidays when parents may need additional support
  • Via email, messaging apps and as part of company-wide meetings

2. Offer support groups and workshops

For caring and parenting, connecting with others with a similar experience can be a powerful way to get advice and simply commiserate. According to Carers UK, 81% of carers have felt lonely or socially isolated as a result. And one-third of carers said they felt this way partly because they did not feel they could talk to their friends about their caring role.

Employee resource groups (ERGs) conducted either online or in person can allow employees to connect during the working day via meetings or through messaging tools.

If you’re working with vendors that provide resources for parents and carers, ask if they host educational webinars or workshops for employees.

3. Provide a ‘buddy system’ when employees return

Returning from parental leave can feel overwhelming. If someone is gone for a few hours a week or misses a week or two of work, they may start feeling they are slipping behind.

When a parent or carer returns to work after a period of absence, ensure that their team has a plan to get them back up to speed. Identifying one person to participate in a ‘buddy system’ with the returning parent or carer can help them have one go-to resource for questions about projects or updates they may have missed.

How managers can help

For those who haven’t been parents or carers, it can be difficult to understand how time-consuming it can be. Empathy can go a long way toward creating a more supportive environment for parents and carers.

Consider sharing training materials with managers with specific examples of what caring can involve. Personal stories, in particular, can help bring to life what others might be going through. A fertility and/or parenting benefit provider may have resources for training line managers that can help.

If a member of your leadership team is a parent or carer themselves, encouraging them to share their story can help others feel more comfortable being open about their own experiences.

Caring and parenting are both challenging, rewarding life experiences. Nevertheless, without the right support, hectic schedules and shifting responsibilities can leave carers and parents drained. Mental health resources tailored for parents and carers can help these valuable members of your team feel their best at work while balancing life at home.

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