By Helen Clark: Director, Child Mental Health Charter Campaign
The latest findings from the regular UK Household Longitudinal Survey, ‘Understanding Society’ (Source) make worrying reading for mothers of children aged 4-12 who have been largely confined at home during the recent school lockdowns.
It is understood that the mental health of ‘parents’ has suffered during the periods of pandemic-enforced school closures but what this study demonstrates is that mothers rather then fathers have paid with their own mental health.
The study examined how 1,500 parents of 4-12 year olds coped mentally with the school closures attendant on the March 2020 lockdown. Academics from Birmingham, Essex and Surrey universities said that the findings pointed to:
‘A significant detrimental effect on mothers’ mental health’ as opposed to ‘no significant difference’ in the mental health of fathers.
Mothers whose children missed the full 2020 summer term were worst affected and their responses to 12 questions in the general health section of the survey showed a major decline in their mental health compared with before the onset of the pandemic.
Mothers with at least one child in the group of primary school aged children who did not return until September experienced some or all of the following symptoms:
• Loss of sleep
• Feeling under constant strain
• Feeling unhappy or depressed
• Feeling unable to surmount personal difficulties
• Seeing themselves as a worthless person
• Losing confidence in themselves
• Being unable to enjoy normal daily activities
The authors identified that women experienced a spike in loneliness and social isolation, loss of contact with peers and mothers in particular disproportionally shouldered the burden of home-schooling, juggling homework and their own work during the pandemic and felt constantly exhausted as a consequence.
Dr Laura Fumagelli a research fellow at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex said:
‘It is striking that on average, fathers’ mental health does not seem to be affected by school closures….we estimate that school closures could be
responsible for around half of the decline in mental health experienced by mothers during the pandemic.’
Helen Clark, Campaign Diercr for the Child Mental Health Charter Campaign said:
‘These finding are incredibly disturbing and show that mothers have borne the entire family weight of school closures to the detriment of their own mental health.
As well as having to juggle responsibility for home-schooling; mothers will also have had to cope with the distress of small children who have been deprived of their normal social contacts in school and facilities for exercise and free play as well as study.
Added to this, it appears that mothers have had to deal with their children’s emotional distress and fears occasioned by the tumultuous and abrupt change to their daily lives.
At no point has the Government made clear and detailed plans to address how the COVID 19 pandemic has impacted the mental health of the entire family and some of the damage suffered will be extremely difficult to repair in the short to medium term.
A family-oriented mental health recovery strategy is now a necessity.
Otherwise the whole of society will end up paying the bill in economic as well as health terms.’