Parental anxiety and depression is a pervasive problem. A large and growing body of research proves that it is a major risk factor for difficulties in a child’s life. Depression disrupts a parent’s ability to work, parent, and participate in the community.
For most parents, the covid-19 pandemic has been stressful would be a dramatic understatement. The combination of financial pressure, loss of child care and health concerns are exceedingly challenging for families. Mental health problems are expected to rise dramatically as a secondary effect of Covid-19 and the measures that have been put in place to contain it.
The potential long-term consequences on children from increased parental stress, anxiety and depression are only beginning to be understood.
However, past research tells us that the children exposed to these problems are more likely to experience mental health problems themselves, in addition to developing an increased risk of learning and behaviour problems and reduced economic mobility throughout their lives.
We need to develop an approach that helps the parents and also protects the children’s future.
Escalation in parental anxiety and depression
Recent studies have found that pregnant mothers and those with young children are experiencing three- to five-fold increase in self-reported anxiety and depression symptoms. A history of mental illness, current domestic conflict and financial stress were associated with worse mental health across multiple child age groups. These figures are especially concerning because young children are highly vulnerable to maternal mental illness due to their near total reliance on caregivers to meet basic health and safety needs.
Parenting stress associated with mental illness can lead to negative interactions, including harsh discipline and being less responsive to children’s needs. For parents, depression contributes to various health problems and low quality of life. Suicide is a leading cause of death for women of child-bearing age that we expect to increase should high rates of mental health problems continue to be unaddressed.
How does parental anxiety and depression affect children?
Parental anxiety and depression shapes not only a parent’s perception of the world, but also a child’s experience of the world internally and externally. Depressed parents have been found to interact with their children differently, in ways that affect the child’s development. For example, depressed mothers have been found to use less emotion and expressivity in their language with their babies. And they make less eye contact.
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