Families' mental and physical health has taken a hit due to COVID-19 stress

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Researchers are concerned about the long-term effects the pandemic could have on well-being

Several recent studies have highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened stress levels for families. Now, researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center are exploring how this stress is affecting the mental and physical health of parents and their kids. 

According to the study findings, the pandemic has had a negative impact on families’ physical and emotional well-being, affecting everything from kids’ behavior to parents having enough healthy, affordable food to put on the table. 

“COVID-19 and measures to control its spread have had a substantial effect on the nation’s children,” said researcher Dr. Stephen Patrick. “Today an increasing number of the nation’s children are going hungry, losing employer-sponsored insurance, and their regular childcare. The situation is urgent and requires immediate attention from federal and state policymakers.” 

Structural changes leading to mounting stress

The researchers surveyed families across the country to get a deeper understanding of how families have been affected both mentally and physically by the pandemic. They answered questions about how they handle childcare, their health -- both physical and mental -- food insecurity, and health insurance. 

The biggest takeaway from this study is that families nationwide are in need of support in several areas, including better physical and mental health services that are equipped to handle families during these times. 

The study findings showed that food insecurity spiked in the months since the pandemic hit. Not having enough quality food is cause for concern at any time of year, but since day-to-day life has become more precarious, even more families are struggling to get healthy, affordable meals to their kids. 

Just about one-quarter of all parents that were surveyed lost childcare since the start of the pandemic; another 15 percent of parents reported worsening behavior for their young ones since they’ve been home. The researchers believe these two factors are related because losing a regular babysitter or time spent in daycare affects how kids socialize and play. Extra time at home, away from other kids, can rub off on how young ones behave with their parents and siblings. 

Mental health takes a hit

The study findings also suggest that mental health has worsened during the pandemic, with nearly 30 percent of parents reporting poorer emotional regulation. Mothers were hit the hardest by these mental health struggles, as were parents of younger kids. 

Overall, the researchers are worried about how the pandemic has affected both parents and children, and these findings emphasize just how difficult this time has been for families. 

“The loss of regular childcare related to COVID-19 has been a major shock to families,” said researcher Dr. Matthew M. Davis. “In almost half of all cases where parents said that their own mental health has worsened and that their children’s behavior had worsened during the pandemic, they had lost their usual childcare arrangements. We need to be aware of these types of stressors for families, which extend far beyond COVID-19 as an infection or an illness.” 

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