Parents in the US have experienced alarmingly high rates of anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic – and this is having a direct impact on children.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a terrible toll on the mental health of children and parents alike.

In a 2020 survey, 71% of parents said they believed the pandemic had hit them harm the mental health of their children. The American Academy of Pediatrics announced A national emergency in children’s mental health in October 2021, citing “soaring” rates of mental health challenges for children.

In 2022, the Biden administration has developed a comprehensive strategy and I committed a large sum of moneyincluding $300 million secured through a bipartisan agreement, for the national response to the children’s mental health crisis through multiple sources.

But something often missing from this national conversation is the importance of learning about parents’ mental health and the impact of parents’ mental well-being on the health of their children. Decades of research clearly shows that the mental health of parents and their children is closely linked.

as a Assistant Professor of Child and Family Development which he focuses his research on Parenting and child mental healthI often see that the mental health of parents – or other caregivers who act in a parental role, such as grandparents or adoptive parents – is overlooked when trying to support children’s mental health. Until this gap is addressed, efforts to address the mental health crisis in children and adolescents are likely to fall short.

Even after a child shows symptoms of a mental health problem, many parents still don’t seek help.

The burden of the pandemic on parents

The work of many researchers, including my own group, shows that parents report alarmingly high rates of mental health challenges. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In my own work on the subject, A.J A 2021 study found that 34% of parents She reported elevated anxiety symptomsAnd about 28% of them reported depressive symptoms that were of clinical concern.

These rates were similar to other reports, and indicate that fathers had higher levels of mental health needs than other children before the epidemic. The plethora of research on the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of parents and children occurred in 2020 and 2021, so it is not yet clear whether or not mental health needs have decreased as the pandemic wanes.

Pass the pain

Parents’ mental health is important in itself, because they are often stressed and need support. But the research is also clear that so is parental well-being They are closely related to their children. Parents with mental health challenges They often have children with mental health challenges, and vice versa.

This reaction is complex and varied and includes both genetic and environmental factors such as exposure to stress or trauma. The well-being of the parents directly affects the overall structure and functioning of the home environment, such as following the daily routine, and the quality of the parent-child relationship.

For example, when parents are depressed, they often express more negative emotions — such as anger and irritability — with their children. They are also less consistent in discipline and Less involved in the parent-child relationship. And as a result of these stresses at home, their children can, too He gets depressed in addition to other challengessuch as anxiety or behavioral problems.

Children of parents with high levels of anxiety are at risk of related anxiety and depression themselves Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And ADHD is notoriously highly hereditary: one study found that about 50% of children with ADHD also One of his parents had ADHD.

Parents’ mental health is affected by amount of stress They face, such as economic hardship, inadequate childcare and competitive pressures from work and family. When the parents have social support From family, friends and their community or school systemStudies show that they are less likely to suffer from anxiety or depression.

Children whose parents have mental health issues may struggle with anxiety and a tendency to self-isolate.

Parental therapy also helps children

In a recent review on parental depression, researchers reported that children receiving mental health care They often have depressed parentsOften, parental depression is not treated. Importantly, the review also found that when parents are treated for depression and see their depressive symptoms improve, their children’s psychological symptoms improve and overall functioning improves. It also concluded that treatment of parental and child mental health challenges is rarely combined.

However, there are emerging approaches to combining the two, including examining and addressing parent-child mental health challenges in Primary childcare. While this approach to identifying and treating psychiatric conditions is new, studies show that it is promising for reducing depressive symptoms in both parents and children simultaneously.

When parents are not able to receive effective mental health treatment because of their busy schedules, inability to tolerate it, stigma against mental health care or Shortage of mental health service providersChildren are at risk for mental health challenges, too. On the other hand, when Parents receive evidence-based mental health careAnd Like cognitive behavioral therapyChildren also benefit.

Research also shows that A family based approach To mental health care that takes into account the needs of the parents, the family context and the parent-child relationship may be the best support Both children and their parents.

Prioritize the parents

Too often, parents feel they need to take a back seat to what they see as the most important needs of their children. But just as airline flight attendants instruct adults at the start of each flight to put on their safety mask first, parents should know the importance of prioritizing their own well-being to promote the health of their children.

One concrete action parents can take is to seek family-based therapies. This can be a difficult process, but talking with their child’s pediatrician about specific referrals for this type of care can be a good place to start. If these options are not available, parents should ensure that they are involved in their children’s mental health care and incorporate what is learned in therapy into their family’s daily life. They should also ask for referrals for their own mental health care as needed.

Ultimately, the mental health crisis of children cannot be resolved without also prioritizing the parents. British psychiatrist John Bowlby is widely recognized as the father of attachment theory, the study of the importance of early relationships between children and their caregivers. Bowlby often expressed the sentiment that “a society values ​​its children Should cherish their parents. “

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