Teen Mental Health – Employee Benefits Solution

Your teen is restless and irritable. They’ve changed their eating habits and seem to be upset by the slightest question. How do you know if this is typical teen behavior or part of a growing trend of teen anxiety?

Your teen is restless and irritable. They've changed their eating habits and seem to be upset by the slightest question. How do you know if this is typical teen behavior or part of a growing trend of teen anxiety?

An education room with wooden chairs and desks.

Anxiety disorders can mimic typical teen complaints. However common, they may increase as the teen gets older, so paying attention to patterns is critical. For instance, an occasional headache may be normal but frequent headaches may be symptomatic of a larger issue.

Knowing the signs early can lead to a faster recovery. In this piece we will discuss the signs of teen anxiety, issues of family stress, and how employers can help employees care for struggling teens in their lives.

What are the Signs of Teen Anxiety?

Common psychosomatic complaints that occur in teen anxiety include:

  • Frequent headaches including migraines
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Occasions of not feeling well with no obvious medical cause
  • Changes in sleep habits that include sleeping less, sleeping more, or not feeling refreshed after sleeping

Looking at these physical changes in combination with emotional and social changes may tip you off to an underlying anxiety disorder. If the teen has difficulty concentrating, is restless, or has frequent outbursts, these emotional cues may be indicative of a larger issue.  Social changes that may include avoiding usual friends or activities, isolating from peer groups, spending more time alone, or a significant drop in school performance are also red flags.

These symptoms are not uncommon. It is estimated that nearly 1/3 of adolescents will meet these criteria and have specific or social phobias, separation anxiety, PTSD, and panic disorders.

After puberty, young women are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety than young men. Studies suggest that adolescent girls are more likely to be affected because of high concentrations of sex hormone receptors in the brain. In addition to organic reasons, social, political, and environmental causes have contributed to the increased number of teens who have surpassed anxiety and experience depression.

However, teen anxiety may also have started at a much younger age. Children often learn coping mechanisms to help them deal with unhealthy situations that don't manifest as anxiety until their teen years. Therapists recommend observing children for emotional and physical issues at a young age before they develop into a full-blown anxiety disorder.

Where Can Teens Get Help?

Once a disorder has been recognized, it is vital to get help as soon as possible. Luckily, there are many resources available to teens and their parents that include:

  • School counselors: School counselors may be the first line of support for helping teens understand their issues and where to go for help. These counselors are a free resource that can refer teens to additional community or professional services.
  • Crisis Hotlines: Hotlines may be able to answer immediate and emergent needs. Multiple hotlines are easily accessible, such as Teen Online.
  • Mental Health Centers and Clinics: There are groups funded by federal and state governments that offer mental-health assistance. The US Department of Health and Human Services provides a list of funded clinics by state. Call ahead to see if these clinics are a good fit for your teen's anxiety issues at National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics and the US Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration.
  • Medical Centers: Local hospitals and medical centers may offer mental health programs and therapists. If the hospital is a teaching facility, they may have low-cost services available.
  • Colleges and Universities: Some higher educational facilities may offer low-cost programs as part of their behavioral health training curriculum.
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): Under an employer-sponsored health program, they may offer EAP programs that include free assistance for employees and their families that include professional therapists that can help evaluate teens for specific anxiety issues.
  • Private Therapists: These may be available in your community or found at the American Psychological Association. Asked them if they accept a sliding fee scale based on your household income. To find a therapist in your area, check your state's websites of mental health association or the American Psychological Association (APA).
  • Tele Mental Health: Teens and families in rural areas may not have adequate access to in-person treatment. Tele-mental health options are becoming more prevalent and are providing effective care. Teledoc, a provider of behavioral health, reports an overall reduction (for all ages) of 31% in anxiety and 32% in depression symptoms.

How to Access Mental Health Benefits

Mental health issues are more prevalent and the funds needed to address them are becoming more available. Employer health plans often include mental health benefits both for the employee and their dependents. The ACA also includes mental health benefits for those on state subsidy and small employer plans.

State Medicaid programs provide some mental health services and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beneficiaries receive a full service array. These services often include counseling, therapy, medication management, social work services, peer supports, and substance use disorder treatment. While states determine which of these services to cover for adults, Medicaid and CHIP requires that children enrolled in Medicaid receive a wide range of medically necessary services, including mental-health services.

Can Employers Help Employees Manage Family Stress?

Yes! One of the top benefits that employees now request is a flexible schedule, often to allow them to better balance work-home commitments. This benefit allows parents to better monitor teens and attend to the caregiving that may be necessary.

In one experiment by an MIT researcher, she created two groups of employees, with one group of employees allowed the freedom to work where they wanted while their manager supported their personal decision. The result was that employees were more engaged and happier than the group that did not receive manager support and did not have control over their workplace. Companies who support their employees with flexible arrangements, in addition to valuable health plans, created a more engaging relationship with their employees.

While "job stress" is a primary reason for the overall stress that employees feel, 20% of the stress is related to the inability to balance work-life commitments, which can include monitoring and caring for teen physical and mental health issues. These issues can result in loss of productivity due to stress. Statistics show that 42% of employees lose up to 30 minutes a day for stress related issues and 35% lose up to an hour per day, making for a significant loss of time and effort for employers.

Teen anxiety is a serious issue that must be addressed in order for adolescents to grow into mature, healthy adults. Providing them with the therapeutic and financial resources necessary to get them on the right track is readily available. Though it requires some effort, it can benefit teens, parents, and employers in the long run.


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