Evidence Review reveals impact of COVID-19 on parents’ mental health

Thousands of children at risk as nation’s mental health plummets

COVID-19 has worsened the situation for thousands of children in households where a parent has depression, anxiety or other mental health difficulties.

Before the pandemic, 2.9 million children were living with a parent with symptoms of anxiety and depression in England.

The findings from a new Evidence Review, carried out by Pro-Bono Economics for children’s charity Our Time, suggests that the prevalence of children who have parents with mental illness or mental health difficulties has increased during the pandemic.

For young people affected by parental mental illness, the pandemic has cut-off essential lifelines — including contact with teachers and grandparents. Evidence shows that one of the strongest factors to protect these children is access to other trusted ‘well’ adults. Without support, this group risks long-term poor health, social and behavioural outcomes.

Key findings from our Evidence Review include:

• Almost half (49.6%) of all people in Britain reported ‘high’ anxiety in March 2020 — a sharp increase from 2019 when the figure was 21%

• Parents and carers of children are among the groups reporting even higher levels of stress and anxiety than population averages

• One in four adults who would like mental health support are unable to access services

• The net monetary value of COVID-19 on mental health and wellbeing is estimated at £2.25 billion per day, equivalent to £43 per adult each day. This will be higher for parents given their elevated levels of stress and anxiety

• For many children, access to teachers and other adults on whom they rely has been constrained during the lockdown.

“Our Evidence Review suggests the numbers of adults with mental health issues has risen dramatically. Parents with a mental illness already struggle to keep their emotional balance but the pandemic will have exacerbated their symptoms. Many parents who were just about able to cope have been pushed over the edge,” warns Our Time’s CEO, Dympna Cunnane.

Young person’s psychiatrist, Dr Nick Barnes, Honorary Senior Lecturer, University College London, explains: “The pandemic has been a profoundly difficult and confusing time for many children and their families. But for children living with a parent with mental health needs, the impact has been even more pronounced. This timely report robustly articulates the severity of this impact, its costs, and how failure to recognise the needs of these children will reinforce the health inequalities that drive mental health need across the country. Identification of need and the offer of adequate support for some of our most vulnerable children is not just an issue of social justice, nor, solely a matter of Children’s Rights, but a national emergency that needs prioritising and addressing today.”

Single parent, Jane*, from London:

“I’ve experienced intense claustrophobia with feeling trapped in the house. We don’t have a garden. We’re in a small flat and constantly getting under each other’s feet. I’m feeling worthless and inadequate and I’m worried about coming out of lockdown and dealing with everyday life.”

Kayleigh*, a mother from Plymouth, who has an anxiety disorder and depression:

“I was starting to get somewhere before lockdown. With school and everything starting again, I feel as a family we are back to square one in all aspects medically and mentally.”

Our Time urges Government to:

• Put extra support in schools and the community for children and young people who have had traumatic experiences during the lockdown.

• Recognise children affected by parental mental illness as a specific ‘at risk’ group.

• Make it mandatory for doctors to ask their patients about their family circumstances and to check what support is available to the children.

– ENDS –

Notes to editors

In an average British classroom, one in six children has a parent with depression or anxiety.

Parental mental illness is one of the 10 most powerful sources of toxic stress in young people, putting children at increased risk of mental illness and other poor outcomes.

Our Time’s evidence-based interventions mitigate these risks by helping children increase their resilience.

Media contacts

For more information, or to request a copy of our Evidence Review, please contact:

Dympna Cunnane – CEO – 07800 976 778

Christina Clarke – Communications Lead – 07939 563 756

Email – media@ourtime.org.uk

You can download Our Time’s brand guidelines and logos here.

*Names changed to protect identities.