Nine in ten (86%) parents say the pandemic has left them feeling overwhelmed, unable to cope, and lacking balance in their life. Major factors are the effect of lockdowns and fears of more, the pressures of homeschooling (45%), fear of becoming ill (36%), work pressures and lack of work (29%), and financial difficulties (28%).
New survey, published by Youth Mental Health Charity stem4 and Marking Parent Mental Health Day, finds that most parents and carers have little or no time to manage their own mental health needs, leaving four in ten in mental health distress.
Of the 1,000 parents and carers surveyed, all with at least one child aged between 0 and 18 living in the home, four in ten (39%) now say they are experiencing mental health issues (41% of men and 37% of women), compared just under three in ten at the start of the pandemic. Yet only one in four (26%) can access the treatment they need.
These difficulties include stress (62%), anxiety (50%), depression (54%), PTSD (13%), anger and behaviour difficulties (9%), eating disorders (6%), and self-harming behaviours (5%). 17% of parents say they are burned out and in a constant state of physical and emotional exhaustion.
Why so few parents experiencing mental ill-health can get help
Of the four in ten parents currently experiencing mental health issues, 44% say they have not asked for help, either because they don’t want to make a fuss (46%), they feel ashamed (30%), they don’t want to upset their family (22%) or have their family think less of them (23%), or they fear that help won’t be available (13%).
Meanwhile, of the 56% who have asked for help, just half of the parents (26%) are receiving treatment. When asked whom they had approached, 65% had contacted their GP, 41% NHS mental health services, 19% their employer, 13% a charity/went online, while 7% presented at an Accident and Emergency Department. 7% paid privately to see a therapist or counsellor.
Three-quarters (77%) of parents and carers with pre-existing mental health issues say the pandemic has worsened their mental health. Over a third (36%) directly attribute this to a lack of access to mental health treatment. In comparison, other factors include isolation (33%), relationship difficulties (22%), becoming unwell with Covid-19 (25%), changes to work structures (21%), and the prioritisation of the mental health needs of other family members (19%).
Parents say employers could do more to support their mental health and well-being
At least one in five parents now live with a partner (22%) or a child (18%) with mental ill-health. Although most working parents (77%) say their employer supports their mental health and well-being to a lesser or greater extent (49% say the former, 28% the latter), nine in ten (90%) still struggle to balance the time they spend on paid work and household chores with time spent with other family members.
Consequently, parents say they are left with little or no spare time to take care of their mental health. Meanwhile, parents and carers whose employers allow them to split their work between home and a formal workplace are less likely to experience mental health issues (29%) than those whose options are confined to working from home or at a formal workplace (40%).
Parent groups most likely to have mental health issues
With so many parents and carers now struggling to find balance in their lives, the preliminary survey findings show that certain groups are now more likely to be experiencing mental health issues. These include carers and parents of adopted children (63%); single parents (52%); people on a low household hold income, i.e. £30k a year or less (49%); parents of children under the age of three (47%), and working parents on temporary contracts (46%).
- I felt like I was being swallowed, going down a never-ending hole. Having just gone back to work after 10 months of maternity leave and then been thrown into lockdown, I couldn’t cope.
- My partner and I are in the same job – emergency workers. We haven’t had a pay rise for at least 7 years. With rising costs, even with all our overtime, we can’t afford to complete the necessary work needed for our home, and I can’t afford childcare. No wonder I am depressed.
- The pandemic has affected the mental health of my 16-year-old, who struggles to leave the house, and I can’t leave her alone for more than two hours. She’s still waiting for treatment, and I have to work. I’m so stressed, but no one cares.
Dr Nihara Krause, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, founder of stem4, said: ‘It’s highly worrying that four in ten parents and carers say they are experiencing mental health issues, with only a quarter willing or able to access treatment.’
‘GPs are often the first port of call for parents in mental health distress. Still, service resources are being both significantly stretched and reduced, and the criteria for acceptance to mental health services are dauntingly high.’
‘The consequence is that few parents are getting the help they need. Meanwhile, children’s and young people’s mental health problems are at an all-time high, with these services stretched to breaking point and very few able to access early interventions. Parents are not only struggling to balance all of their responsibilities but are also having to be the supporter of their child’s or young person’s mental health, and that can be especially hard if their mental health is compromised.’
‘stem4’s Parent Mental Health Day is here to shine a light on the challenges facing so many parents and to encourage discussion around these shared issues without feeling embarrassed to do so. Right now, many parents are feeling overwhelmed, negative, and helpless.’
‘Collectively, we need to challenge the stigma associated with mental ill-health by opening the conversation and to start tipping the balance towards positive mental health. A good start would be to highlight the urgent need to enhance family mental health from birth to adulthood and work collectively to properly fund a range of child, young person and adult mental health services.’
‘This would enable all groups to find resilient ways to deal with challenges that have emerged from the pandemic, and to stop the escalating impact of untreated mental ill-health difficulties by improving access to effective treatments.’
The PMHD survey
The survey was carried out ahead of Parent Mental Health Day (PMHD), a new annual campaign launched by Youth Mental Health Charity stem4. The theme of this year’s campaign focused on 27th January is #TiptheBalancetoPositive. As we tentatively explore emerging from a prolonged period of Covid-19 restrictions, impacts and uncertainties, PMHD 2022 will focus on practical ways parents and carers can regain equilibrium in their lives and start to tip the balance towards positive mental health.
stem4’s PMHD encourages understanding and awareness of the importance of parents’ mental health and its impact on the whole family system. Throughout the campaign, stem4 provides interested organisations, corporates, and parents’ groups with information packs filled with ideas to spotlight parents’ mental health.
PMHD will encourage people to reflect on the impact of mental health on their own and their families lives, share thoughts on how to #TipTheBalance towards positive mental health, and take positive steps to make the change.
The PMHD survey also explores what has had the biggest negative impact on parents’ mental health and well-being during the pandemic and what would improve it going forward.
What has negatively impacted parents’ mental health and well-being during the pandemic?
- Effect of lockdowns, e.g., homeschooling, loss of income (45%)
- Fear of a family member becoming ill (36%)
- Fear they (the parent) would become ill (33%)
- Work pressures (29%)
- Financial worries (28%)
- Effect of not being able to work (20%)
- Loneliness (19%)
- No time for their mental health (18%)
- Family relationship difficulties (15%)
- Putting family first (14%)
What would improve parents’ mental health and well-being going forward
- Increase monthly income to pay essential bills (36%)
- A guarantee that schools will remain open over the next year (32%)
- Better work-life balance (28%)
- More time to look after their mental health (26%)
- Better access to health services generally: GP, mental health services, and hospital appointments (25%)
- Free/affordable childcare (23%)
- Equal distribution of unpaid chores in the home (21%)
- Better home living conditions (19%)
- Access to more paid work (17%)
- Better access to children’s mental health services (17%)
How working parents rate their employers’ support of their mental health and well-being
|Profession||A lot||Somewhat||Not at all|
|Charity/Not for Profit||25.10%||55.20%||19.70%|
|Retail (buying and selling)||21.90%||50.40%||27.70%|
|Energy and Utilities||15.60%||63.90%||20.40%|
|Creative arts and design||10.10%||61.20%||28.60%|