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Pandemic Parenting’s Mental Health Risks

Well here we are, nearly a year into the global pandemic, and for some it may feel more like a decade. Especially for parents, many of whom have been stuck at home with their children since March. And while the memes are funny and provide a good laugh during tough times, there is truth to the notion that parents, especially new parents, are more likely to be struggling mentally and emotionally right now.

The Added Stress of Being a Parent during a Pandemic

People all over the world are dealing with varying levels of uncertainty, stress, fear, and anxiety. But parents have been hit particularly hard this year, and it shows when you look at the mental health numbers.

…there is truth to the notion that parents, especially new parents, are more likely to be struggling mentally and emotionally right now.

According to research from the American Psychological Association, nearly half of parents with children at home rated their stress level as “high” (8-10 on a scale of 1-10) during the first months of the pandemic, compared to less than 30% of adults without children. Top stressors include managing distance/online learning, access to food and housing, managing work/home balance, healthcare, and missing major milestones in their children’s lives.

Loss of emotional support is another huge factor in the mental health of parents during the pandemic. A University of Oregon study showed that 63% of caregivers have lost emotional support during this time of increased isolation. At a time when parents were already becoming more isolated in caring for children, losing the age-old “village” that parents have relied on for generations and being expected to care for children with little to no help, the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem.

Parents who are struggling financially and women who are pregnant or recently gave birth may be at even more risk for clinical levels of anxiety and depression during the pandemic. New parents, especially, are struggling.

Mental Health Risks for New Moms

New parenthood is a time no one should have to go through alone, without support of family and friends.

Even before COVID-19 hit, becoming a mother came with mental health risks. According to an article in the New York Times, pre-pandemic statistics show that 10-25% of pregnant or postpartum women struggled with clinical anxiety or depression. During the pandemic, according to a study in the Journal of Affective Disorders, those numbers have risen to 57% and 37%, respectively.

New parenthood is a time no one should have to go through alone, without support of family and friends. Unfortunately, the pandemic has taken away many of the support systems new parents usually turn to, from grandparents and friends to new moms groups and therapy.

Physical activity is another important part of pregnancy and postpartum that has decreased for many women this year. A survey in Frontiers in Global Women’s Health found that more than 60% of pregnant and postpartum moms were getting less physical activity during the pandemic. Without the ability to stay active, new parents are missing out on yet another important way to keep mental health at optimum levels.

Mothers of Color Are at Particular Risk

You’ve likely heard that communities of color have been disproportionately hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, this goes for mothers of color as well.

Black women are already at greater risk of postpartum depression, childbirth complications, premature birth and maternal death. The pandemic has only heightened troubles for black moms, from worries about getting COVID-19 to higher levels of unemployment. According to the National Women’s Law Center, unemployment rates for black women and Latinas were more than one and a half times higher than rates for white men in the month of September.

If that wasn’t enough, current events and racial tensions add even more stress to the lives of people of color, which can negatively impact mental health, especially for already vulnerable pregnant and postpartum women.

How to Care for Your Mental Health in Trying Times

With many of the usual ways self-care options in jeopardy right now, how can parents cope? Fortunately, there are many creative ways to prioritize and protect your mental health:

  • Use technology for support. We know, one more Zoom call and you might smash your computer. But taking advantage of technology for connection with loved ones as well as doctor’s appointments and even therapy sessions may be a necessity for your mental health right now.
  • Get moving. Even a five-minute workout can give you a much-needed emotional boost. Exercise has many health benefits, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. A Frontiers In Global Women’s Health study showed that women who got at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise reported lower scores for depression and anxiety. So even if you can’t go to the gym, get outside for a walk or put on a yoga video in your bedroom at least a few times a week.
  • Spend time alone. This might sound laughable these days, but finding 10 minutes to yourself every day can do wonders for your mental wellbeing. Whether it’s a short walk, reading a chapter in a book, or chatting with a friend, find some time to recharge daily whenever possible.
  • Watch what you watch. Be careful how much news you watch, especially if you’re feeling anxious or depressed. Taking in too much of the 24-hour news cycle will only increase your stress levels.
  • Know you’re not alone. Sometimes it helps just to know you’re in good company if you’re struggling right now. Even better, reach out to other parents to commiserate and support each other however you can. Chances are your friends could use the support just as much as you could.
  • Don’t be afraid to get professional help. You wouldn’t neglect going to the doctor for a physical ailment, and you should treat your mental health the same way. Don’t hesitate to seek therapy and consider medication if you’re struggling with depression or anxiety. There’s no reason not to get the help you need to be your best self during this difficult time. You and your children will both benefit from you being mentally and emotionally healthy.

    Bottom line: The best thing you can do for your family right now is take care of yourself so you can take care of them. As a mother of two with another on the way, I know firsthand how hard it is right now to do the necessary things to stay healthy mentally. Sometimes it’s easier to watch the news, stay on the couch, or not reach out to friends. But when I do make the effort to do something for my mental health, I almost always see the benefits immediately. So, turn off the TV, get some exercise, reach out to a friend, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to seek the support you need to stay well.