Depressive and anxiety disorders are rising among children and youth in the U.S. and the COVID-19 pandemic together are accelerating what has become a mental health crisis. Children are facing disruptions in their daily lives including isolation, food insecurity and financial changes. The results are influencing their mental health and from some mental health professionals, depression and anxiety have become a bigger concern for them than the virus itself. During the pandemic, more than 50 percent of children have felt moderately sad, depressed or unhappy relative to 25 percent of adults, according to at least one study.
As more companies are now working to alleviate the pandemic’s impact on mental health, Morgan Stanley says it has been investing in children’s mental health for over 50 years. Further, in February 2020, Morgan Stanley established the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children's Mental Health in response to rising concerns over rising concerns over children's mental health and related challenges. This synergy between Morgan Stanley's resources and expertise of its non-profit partners aims to help youth, especially those within marginalized communities. Child Mind Institute is among the founding non-profit partners of this alliance.
“There’s almost none or very few corporate players in this space but I think from a societal perspective, there is actually a dearth of spending there so it’s definitively in need,” said Joan Steinberg, the company’s global head of community affairs and President of the Morgan Stanley Foundation, in a recent interview with 3p. “It’s an underfunded area in every way you can imagine.”
In response to this crisis, Morgan Stanley launched more research and surveys on children’s mental health in 2019. These efforts, says the company, were made to enhance children’s quality of life and understand where exactly in children's health can the company prevent death and diseases. The situation in dire: In 2018, the second leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 to 34 was suicide.
The company continued its research with a follow-up study in November 2020, which confirmed the initial findings: Disruption in daily life is detrimental for both children’s and adults' mental health.
Morgan Stanley is continuing its efforts today. Earlier this year, the company announced a $250,000 grant to support research studies from Child Mind Institute. These studies aim to raise awareness and help develop intervention strategies for children's mental health issues during the pandemic. This grant is one extension of the company’s CRISIS (Coronavirus Health and Impact Survey) project.
While financial support kickstarts preliminary research, challenges in children obtaining mental health support exists in access, socio-economic barriers and stigma. To eliminate these challenges and the stigma attached, Morgan Stanley is focusing on education in high schools and colleges as well. More specifically, one of the alliance’s founding non-profit partner is The Jed Foundation (JED), which has established student mental health programs across campuses.
“There are some hard-core infrastructure issues that have to be addressed and no one company is going to solve that problem. That’s going to take a lot more listening than just us but we can do a lot to raise awareness and reduce stigma as a corporation,” Steinberg told 3p. Institutional challenges include the lack of psychiatrists and psychologists in the U.S, especially in rural areas. This scarcity paired with financial constraints, long commutes and family members working multiple jobs are burdensome when obtaining mental health support.
To measure the effectiveness of its efforts, Morgan Stanley has key performance indicators to measure the company’s impact and how far and in-depth children are reached and parents are educated. The company is also measuring success through obtaining additional funding and influencing other corporations to participate.
“Certainly, we’re looking to see that other funders start joining us and what other corporations, whether private, foundations can we bring to the table, it’s really important to us,” added Steinberg.
Reducing stigma, emphasizing education and encouraging participation is setting the foundation for long-term solutions to a rising problem. As COVID-19 exacerbates mental health issues, especially those of children, the pandemic has made one thing very clear: Children’s mental health cannot be ignored and it is an area in which corporations can contribute resources to help take on this crisis.
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Rasha is a freelance journalist with experience in external communications and publicity. She is a Ryerson School of Journalism graduate and has worked on various media and communication campaigns in film, home development and the nonprofit sector. Rasha is passionate about storytelling for impact, whether she focuses on social enterprise, transforming our food system or making the business world more inclusive.