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A Mental Health Crisis in Parents During the Pandemic

Parents reported increased mental health symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key points

  • A recent report shows that 70% of adults serving as caregivers reported adverse mental health symptoms during the pandemic.
  • Parents or caregivers who had support from others had lower odds of experiencing any adverse mental health symptoms.
  • To protect their mental health, caregivers can seek social support, access mental health treatment, and give themselves a break.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report on the mental health of parents and caregivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to this research, 70% of adults serving as caregivers (either as parents or caring for other adults) reported adverse symptoms related to mental health during the pandemic. Specifically, 55% of parents/caregivers reported symptoms of anxiety/depression, 53.8% reported COVID-19-related traumatic stress disorders, and 39% reported suicidal thoughts. In addition, parents and caregivers were significantly more likely to have mental health concerns during the pandemic than adults without these responsibilities.

 Keira Burton/Pexels
Seventy percent of parents and caregivers reported mental health concerns during the pandemic.
Source: Keira Burton/Pexels

This survey included 10,444 adults (from which 4,436 respondents identified as parents or caregivers). Surveys were completed online from December 2020 until March 2021. Respondents reported their parenting/caregiving roles and completed screening tools for anxiety/depression, COVID-19 trauma- and stress-related disorders (TSRDs), and suicidal thoughts. Most respondents (71%) were also employed in addition to their caregiving responsibilities.

The chance of experiencing adverse mental health symptoms was twice as high for parents and caregivers who felt unprepared to be a caregiver during the pandemic, felt like they lacked personal freedom, or felt financial strain when compared to parents/caregivers who did not experience these feelings. On the other hand, parents/caregivers who reported that they had support from at least one other person had lower odds of experiencing any adverse mental health symptoms.

So what can you do as a parent or caregiver to take care of your own mental health during this stressful time?

1. Find social support from other parents, either virtually or through safe in-person options. Make time to regularly connect with friends and family members who provide you with emotional support.

2. Seek help from a mental health care professional, if necessary. There are currently many telehealth options (that is, therapy provided through video chatting), which may be easier for parents without child care assistance and those who live in rural areas.

3. Ask for help from family and friends. Could your mother-in-law read a story over FaceTime to your children? Could you switch off with some friends watching each other’s kids at outdoor play dates? If you have a parenting partner, could they help with some of the tasks you find the most stressful?

4. Give yourself a break. No parents are capable of being the “perfect” parent, particularly during these stressful, unprecedented times. Remind yourself that the most important predictor of outcome for children is a loving relationship with their caregiver. Screen time and frozen dinners are unlikely to matter in the long run as long as your kids know that they are loved.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

References

Czeisler, M. É., Rohan, E. A., Melillo, S., Matjasko, J. L., DePadilla, L., Patel, C. G., ... & Rajaratnam, S. M. (2021). Mental Health Among Parents of Children Aged< 18 Years and Unpaid Caregivers of Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic—United States, December 2020 and February–⁠ March 2021. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 70(24), 879.

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