All kids suffer from anxiety from time to time, but an estimated one in eight children suffers from an anxiety disorder that sidelines them from regular activities and harms their quality of life. Now a new study out of Ontario has found that anxiety doesn’t just hurt kids: a shocking one in four parents in the province have stayed home from work to care for an anxious kid in 2017, and it has resulted in millions of dollars of lost productivity each year.
The report, which was released this week by Children’s Mental Health Ontario, was conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto’s Canadian Centre for Health Economics. In addition to finding that 25 percent of workers had to stay home with anxious kids over the course of a year, it also found that the missed work likely cost $421 million in 2017.
“The cost of care doesn’t end in the doctor’s office or the hospital,” co-author Adrian Rohit Dass told Today’s Parent. “Our study shows that there are significant costs to families that should be considered as well. This is just one year.”
The numbers are especially surprisingly high for Ontario, where there’s universal healthcare, not to mention publicly-funded mental health centers for children. And as the co-author mentions, the study only covered anxiety – one of many mental health issues that kids suffer from and miss school for.
An earlier Ontario study found that almost half of kids lost a school day due to anxiety over the course of a year. Kids with anxiety often struggle to do well in school, miss out on social experiences, and are prone to addiction issues as they grow older. They are also more likely to suffer from other mental health conditions, like ADHD, depression, eating disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorders.
It’s difficult to say how many parents miss work for their children’s anxiety issues in the United States – but it’s almost certain that the number is growing as anxiety sends twice as many kids to the emergency room today than it was a decade ago. Still, because taking sick days is more difficult in the U.S. than it is in Canada (in the U.S., sick leave isn’t guaranteed, not to mention that the culture discourages it), the numbers might be smaller. But on the other hand, if there are more untreated kids suffering from anxiety in the United States, the numbers might be higher.
What we do know is that two in five parents have taken time off work or used a holiday or sick day to care for a sick or injured kid in the past two years. Of that number, 36 percent had to take unpaid leave, losing money they needed to support their family. Even higher numbers of women and self-employed parents directly lost work income because of sick kids.
In Canada, officials believe this report shows that it is even more imperative to get kids diagnosed and treated for mental health issues early – so that the myriad costs of the illness to kids and their families is minimized.
In America, of course, we don’t even have a study to know whether it’s a problem — possibly because our country isn’t exactly great at supporting parents with ample enough sick time to stay home with a child who struggles with anxiety (nearly one in three private sector workers don’t have any sick time, even for their own illnesses). While we know that school refusal stemming from anxiety affects between 2 and 5 percent of kids, we don’t know how many parents end up calling in sick for it, or how much money they lose caring for their anxious child — which means we can’t figure out how to fix it.