New survey shows parents’ mental health hard-hit by COVID lockdowns

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Parents are shredded by the pandemic.

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Results of a second survey from McMaster University and Offord Centre for Child Studies show startling levels of mental health distress among parents, particularly symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Having consulted more than 10,000 parents in the province, the survey found 69% of them reporting significant depressive symptoms within a week of doing the survey.

Close to half of parents reported that they had consulted with a health professional regarding their own mental health, and 40% said they needed help at least once during the pandemic but did not seek it.

More than one-third of respondents reported a negative effect on their children, specifically due to the lack of onsite schooling and isolation.

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The survey, done May 4 to July 3, took place a year after the first survey, and focused on the health and well-being of caregivers, of their children, and issues of family functioning. There were 10,778 Ontario parents and caregivers in the survey, representing 22,000 children.

“The overall depressive and anxiety symptoms were higher than our original findings during the first wave of COVID-19,” said lead researcher and associate professor Andrea Gonzalez.

“Parents were reporting significant difficulties in the areas of concentration, effort, restless sleep and motivation.”

While parents struggle to cope, kids suffered from isolation. Close to 60% of parents said their children were feeling lonely and isolated from friends.

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The vast majority of parents (63%) also had concerns about the impact of the pandemic on their child’s learning and education.

“When we did the first study, during the first wave, 57% of parents were reporting significant depressive symptoms,” Gonazalez said in a recent interview.

“That was a shock. Those are staggering numbers. We quadruple-checked our data.

“And for the second survey, one year later, those high numbers were even higher.”

Given how long the pandemic has dragged on and how pervasive its effects, the plight of care-takers is perhaps not surprising — particularly in Ontario, said Gonzalez, where the lockdowns were longest.

“But the numbers are still staggering,” she said.

About one-third of parents polled in the first survey said they would find resources useful to manage their own mental health and that of their children.

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Various partner social agencies wanted to know if those families had indeed found help, said Gonzalez, and pertinent questions were included in the second survey.

“About 50% said they had spoken to a mental health professional about their own mental health, but 17% said that they needed to, but didn’t — the common boundaries were that they didn’t know where to go for help, and that the wait times were too long,” she said.

Parents also reported high levels of conflict with their partner or spouse — nearly half reported feeling angry or annoyed with their partner; 42% reported feeling distant or withdrawn from their partner.

“Parents put their own self-care at the bottom,” Gonzalez said.

Engaging children for school, for entertainment and for everything else took a huge toll.

“And we know from other research that women are hardest hit,” she said.

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Even though things are opening up now and schools have reopened, parents haven’t entirely bounced back.

“We won’t have data until February, but anecdotally, parents are still in recovery mode,” she said.

“Our threshold of coping is likely lower at the moment. Our coping resources need time to build back up. With kids back in school, parents should prioritize their own care,” Gonzalez added.

“18 months of chronic stress takes a lot out of people.”

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