Who cares for carers? 70% report mental health decline during the pandemic


Father with child on his shoulders
Image credit: Kelly McClintock (Unsplash)

A new report reveals the extent to which the Covid-19 pandemic has affected parents and adult carers, with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts all common among caregivers


At the start of the pandemic, data highlighted that the mental health of parents and adult carers was significantly worse than those that did not share these responsibilities, with 27% of parents of children and almost two thirds of adult caregivers reporting increased mental health symptoms resulting from the pandemic.


Now new data has been published by The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that shows even more carers are experiencing increased mental health symptoms than previously reported, conveying the dire extent to which the pandemic has put a strain on people taking care of others.


In the study, over 10,000 respondents were categorised as either a parent, a caregiver of an adult, a parent-caregiver (i.e. carers of their children and at least one adult), or a non-caregiver.


Across all categories of carer, mental health symptoms had increased compared with non-caregivers. Specifically, 70% of caregivers (either parents or adult carers) reported adverse mental health symptoms such as anxiety or depression (55%), and Covid-19-related traumatic stress disorders (54%).


Particularly worrying is the finding that, of all the mental health symptoms reported, suicidal thoughts had increased the most among carers compared with non-carers, with 39% reporting passive suicidal thoughts and 32% experiencing serious suicidal thoughts.

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The extent to which the pandemic affected each group of carers differed. Parent-caregivers (a parent and adult carer) saw the greatest increase in mental health symptoms, with 85% reporting that they had experienced at least one adverse mental health symptom and 50% reporting serious suicidal ideation in the past month. Adult carers – those looking after someone with a mental health condition, substance abuse, an active case of Covid-19, or an adult at risk of severe Covid-19 –had the most adverse mental health symptoms.


For all respondents caring for adults (both parents-caregivers and adult caregivers), those that agreed with statements that they “had experienced caregiving-related family disagreements” or “resented their caregiving responsibilities,” were 3x more likely to suffer adverse mental health symptoms when compared with adult caregivers that disagreed with them.


A similar pattern emerged for caregivers that agreed with statements that they “felt underprepared as a caregiver,” “did not have the personal freedom they desired,” or “had to decrease living expenses to help pay for things”, 2x more of whom were likely to suffer adverse mental health symptoms, compared with caregivers that disagreed with them.


Caring for carers


Results also found that the biggest mitigation of adverse mental health symptoms for caregivers was having support from someone else, highlighting the importance of a support network they can rely on during tough times.


The researchers suggest that the difficulty in balancing employment with new caregiving responsibilities, such as remote education, is a major factor increasing symptoms of mental health issues among carers. Because most carers are also employed – 71% of their sample – they put forward that telehealth and internet-based interventions could help improve caregiver mental health, whilst not interfering with their responsibilities.


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If you are a parent and/or caregiver currently experiencing a stressful time, Dr Cara Goodwin suggests four ways to look after your mental health:


  1. Look for support from other caregivers – Either virtually or using safe in-person methods, regularly connect with family and friends for some emotional support.

  2. Contact a mental health professional when necessary – For caregivers, telehealth can provide expert advice without interfering with your responsibilities.

  3. Ask your friends and family for help – Think of ways your friends and family can help you in small ways that add up. For example, your mother could read a story over FaceTime to your child before bed, or you could meet up with friends while your kids play in the park.

  4. Cut yourself some slack – Nobody can claim to be the ‘perfect parent’, especially during these unprecedented and stressful times. That’s why it’s important to remind yourself that the best thing for children is a loving relationship with their caregiver. Allowing your child to sit on their tablet while you take a break won’t hurt them in the long run, as long as they know you love them.


Written by Conor D'Andrade

Contributor for Talking Mental Health