It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of children and parents.
A 2020 survey found that 71% of parents believe the pandemic has hurt their children’s mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics declared a National Child Mental Health Emergency in October 2021, citing a “surge” rate of mental health problems in children.
In 2022, the Biden administration will develop a comprehensive strategy to channel significant funding, including US$300 million secured through a bipartisan agreement, through multiple sources to the national response to the children’s mental health crisis. was put into
What is often missing from this national conversation, however, is the importance of recognizing the mental health of parents and their impact on the mental health of their children. Decades of research clearly show that the mental health of parents and their children are closely linked.
As an Assistant Professor of Child and Family Development, whose research focuses on parenting and child mental health, I am aware that the mental health of parents, or other caregivers in the parental role, such as grandparents and foster parents, We often see things going unnoticed. When trying to support the mental health of children. Until this gap is closed, efforts to address the mental health crisis among children and teens will likely fall short.
How the Pandemic Affects Parents
Studies by multiple researchers, including my own group, show that parents reported a surprisingly high rate of mental health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.
My own research on this topic found that in a 2021 survey, 34% of parents reported elevated anxiety symptoms, and of those, about 28% reported symptoms of clinically concerning depression. I was.
These rates are similar to other reports, suggesting that parental mental health needs were higher than before the pandemic. In 2020 and 2021, research on the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of parents and children predominated, so it is not yet clear whether mental health needs have decreased as the pandemic subsided.
delivery of pain
A parent’s psychological health is important in and of itself, as parents are often stressed and need support. However, research has shown that parental well-being is closely related to children’s well-being. Parents with mental health problems often have children with mental health problems.
This interaction is complex and diverse, involving both genetic and environmental factors such as exposure to stress and trauma. Parental well-being has a direct impact on the overall structure and function of the home environment. For example, it affects the quality of daily life and the relationship between parents and children.
For example, when parents experience depression, they often express negative emotions such as anger and frustration towards their children. They are also less consistent in discipline and less involved in parenthood. As a result of these stresses at home, children can develop depression as well as other challenges such as anxiety and behavioral problems.
Children of parents with high levels of anxiety are at risk for both anxiety and depression, which themselves are associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. I’m here. One study found that about 50% of children with ADHD have a parent with her ADHD.
A parent’s mental health is affected by the amount of stress they experience, including financial hardships, inadequate parenting, and competing pressures from work and home. Studies show that parents are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression if they have social support from family, friends, the community, or the school system.
Parental therapy helps children too
In a recent review of parental depression, researchers found that children in mental health care are more likely to have depressed parents and, in many cases, untreated depression in their parents. Notably, the review also found that when parents were treated for depression and saw their depression symptoms improve, their children had less psychiatric symptoms and improved overall functioning. , concluded that the treatment of parent and child mental health challenges is rarely integrated.
But there are emerging approaches to bring the two together, including screening and treating mental health challenges for both parents and children in pediatric primary care. , studies show promise in simultaneously reducing depressive symptoms in both parents and children.
If parents are unable to receive effective treatment for mental illness due to busy schedules, inability to afford it, stigma against mental health care, or a shortage of mental health providers, children are also vulnerable to mental health problems. Conversely, children also benefit when parents receive evidence-based mental health care such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Research shows that a family-based approach to mental health care that considers parental needs, family circumstances and parent-child relationships may be the best to support both children and their parents.
put parents first
Often times, parents feel that what they perceive as the more important needs of their children need to be put on the back burner. Just like instructing children to put on their safety masks first, parents should be aware of the importance of prioritizing their own well-being in promoting their children’s health.
One concrete action parents can take is to seek family-based therapy. While this can be a difficult process, discussing a specific referral for this type of care with your child’s pediatrician is a good place to start. You should be involved in health care and try to incorporate what you have learned in treatment into your family’s daily life.
Ultimately, no child mental health crisis can be resolved without putting parents first. British psychiatrist John Bowlby is widely regarded as the father of attachment theory, studying the importance of early relationships between infants and their caregivers. Bowlby often expressed the sentiment that “a society that values children should value parents.”