The Impact of COVID-19 on Family Mental Health

There’s no doubt things are changing rapidly for families around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many parents are trying to juggle work and family responsibilities under stressful conditions. Teens must practice social distancing during critical times in their educational journey and when peers play an essential role in their development. But how exactly is the pandemic impacting mental health? The latest research reflects the significant challenges COVID-19 poses for families and how they can overcome them together.

What’s Worrying Parents?

According to several studies, parents report numerous concerns related to COVID-19, all of which are negatively affecting their mental health. Parents worry about contracting the virus, losing their job, and their ability to provide for their families. Work disruptions are on the rise as parents attempt to fit their job responsibilities, childcare, and teaching into each day.

What’s Worrying Teens?

Unfortunately, poor mental health among young people was on the rise even before the pandemic arrived, leaving many parents and mental health experts worried. Studies performed during the pandemic show teens and college students are less worried about getting sick with COVID-19 themselves than they are about passing it to family members. Like parents, they also express concerns about their employment and income as the economy gradually recovers. With remote learning, staying on track with their education presents a whole new series of challenges for teens. Overall, young people are experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression during the pandemic. These feelings can put young people at a greater risk of self-harm or suicidal behavior. To learn more about the warning signs for suicide, read this article

Families Can Overcome Challenges Together

These are trying times. The world needs healing. To improve our collective mental health, we need to rely on many of the same time-tested and scientifically grounded strategies that we use in normal times.

  1. Support each other. In these tough times, connecting with others is imperative. In study after study, social support is what parents and young people identify as the best protection against feeling helpless, anxious, or depressed. Supporting each other can be accomplished even while practicing social distancing to limit the spread of the virus. Pick up the phone, send a text, or write an old-fashioned letter. These small acts help us feel more connected when we can’t see each other in person. If you prefer to see each other face-to-face, mask up, and meet them in an outdoor space.
  2. Practice self-care. We can’t effectively care for others if we don’t take care of ourselves first. Make the time and space to practice your favorite self-care activities. Take a walk or a bike ride — enjoying nature has proven health benefits. Meditate or do yoga. Turn off the TV and get off social media for a bit so you can escape into a new book. Take some deep breaths before you dive back into your responsibilities. All of these activities are proven to enhance well-being and focus. Ultimately, have as much compassion and forgiveness for yourself as you do for others. 
  3. Be charitable and grateful. If you’re able to donate your time or money to a charitable cause, now is one of the best times to do it. This kind of generosity feels great and has notable benefits for health and well-being. Show gratitude to the essential workers who surround us, like sanitation workers, delivery drivers, doctors, nurses, and grocery store clerks. Give particular appreciation to the teachers who are doing everything they can to keep our children learning and feeling connected during these challenging times.  For parents, modeling actions such as these have a tremendous impact on young people, particularly in stressful times. It helps build their character strengths and ensures they will practice the same behaviors as they grow into adulthood. 
  4. Seek professional help. Sometimes, we reach a point where we’ve tried nearly everything, and nothing seems to make us feel better. Or, we encounter a problem we can’t solve on our own. This is where professionals come in. Parents or teens who are struggling with the pandemic’s day-to-day challenges should seek help from a mental health professional. With social distancing, counseling and therapy may look a little different these days. But, a virtual mental health visit can be just as effective as an in-person visit. Help your children understand that it is an act of strength to seek support

These strategies help young people build the resilience they need to overcome life’s challenges. Consider using them alongside a balanced parenting style, by showing your teen how much you care about them and setting appropriate boundaries. This parenting style is known to lead to good mental health for teens now and as they grow up because they know they can always rely on their parents’ support.

About Andy Pool

Andrew Pool, Ph.D., M.Sc. is a Research Scientist at CPTC. He has a doctorate in Public Health with a concentration in Social and Behavioral Sciences from Temple University.

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