Parents in the US had alarmingly high rates of anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic – and that has a direct effect on kids
Published in Health & Fitness
It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the mental health of kids and parents alike.
In a 2020 survey, 71% of parents said they believed the pandemic had hurt their children’s mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in child mental health in October 2021, citing “soaring” rates of child mental health challenges.
In 2022, the Biden administration developed a comprehensive strategy and committed a substantial amount of money, including US$300 million secured through a bipartisan agreement, to a national response to the children’s mental health crisis through multiple sources.
But what is often missing from this national conversation is the importance of recognizing parents’ mental health and the effect that parents’ mental well-being has on that of their children. Decades of research clearly demonstrate that the mental health of parents and their children are inextricably linked.
As an assistant professor of child and family development whose research focuses on parenting and child mental health, I see too often that the mental health of parents – or other caregivers who act in the role of parents, such as grandparents or foster parents – is overlooked when trying to support children’s mental health. Until that gap is addressed, efforts to address the mental health crisis in kids and teens will likely fall short.
The work of multiple researchers, including my own group, shows that parents reported alarmingly high rates of mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In my own work on the subject, a 2021 study found that 34% of parents reported elevated anxiety symptoms, and approximately 28% of them reported depression symptoms that were at a point of clinical concern.
These rates were similar to other reports, and they suggest that parents had higher levels of mental health needs than before the pandemic. The preponderance of research into the pandemic’s toll on parents’ and children’s mental health took place in 2020 and 2021, so it’s not yet clear whether mental health needs have lessened as the pandemic has waned or not.
Parents’ psychological health is important in its own right, since they often experience stress and need support. But research is also clear that the well-being of parents is closely linked to that of their child. Parents who are experiencing mental health challenges often have children with mental health challenges, and vice versa.
This interplay is complex and varied and includes both genetics and environmental factors such as exposure to stress or trauma. Parents’ well-being directly affects the overall structure and functioning of the home environment, such as following daily routines, and the quality of the relationship between parent and child.