Why children’s mental health matters to your company’s bottom line

Mental illness affects one in five adults and costs U.S. employers upwards of $193 billion annually. Half of chronic mental illness begins before age 14; however, fewer than 20 percent of children with mental illness get the treatment they need.

Yet cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory illnesses typically dominate healthcare conversations. And when it comes to corporate wellness campaigns, employers emphasize weight-loss challenges, blood pressure screenings and smoking cessation.

That’s because for most people, mental health is not a watercooler conversation. It’s a stigma company leaders just don’t understand.

Matt Friedman, co-founder of Farmington Hills-based communications firm Tanner Friedman, knows from experience. His daughter was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder while in elementary school; and then, in middle school, she began to suffer from anxiety and depression.

“I think businesses are in denial that mental health affects every family they employ,” said Friedman, who spoke at a recent roundtable discussion about children’s mental health that Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation (CHMF) sponsored; he is chair of the foundation’s board of trustees.

“The business community does not get this at all. The business community is largely silent.”

Friedman is grateful he’s self-employed. While medication has helped his now-teenaged daughter over the years, he said regular therapy has been a necessity.

“I’ve got my cellphone and my laptop, and I’m working in the waiting room,” he said. “I’m looking around thinking, ‘All of these people don’t own their own businesses. How do they do it?’ They probably don’t talk to their bosses very comfortably, saying ‘I need an hour a week to take my kid to therapy.’”

Research shows fewer than 40 percent of employees discuss mental health issues with their employers because of the stigma and an associated fear of employers not taking them seriously, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, a partner of the National Institute of Mental Health.

But statistics from the World Health Organization show why mental health needs to be part of each company’s wellness narrative. Last year, WHO reported that for every $1 a company invests in depression and anxiety alone, it would see a return of $4 in better health and productivity.

“If kids can have their mental health treated, they’ll be better students, they’ll be better educated, they’ll be better equipped to be in the workforce and contribute to our community,” Friedman said.

“It starts when they’re kids.”

The Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation and Crain Content Studio, the custom publishing division of Crain’s Detroit Business, brought together leaders in business, family service, medicine and education to talk candidly about children’s mental health and why employers need to pay attention. The conversation, moderated by Crain’s Editor and Publisher Ron Fournier, took place in October.

Read the full story at Crainsdetroit.com.