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Nine in 10 (86%) parents say the pandemic has left them feeling overwhelmed, unable to cope, and lacking balance in their life, new figures published today on Parent Mental Health Day (27th January) reveal.
Major contributing factors to this are the effect of lockdowns and fears of more, the pressures of home schooling (45%), fear over becoming ill (36%), work pressures and lack of work (29%), and financial difficulties (28%).
Most parents and carers have little or no time to take care of their own mental health needs, leaving four in 10 in mental health distress, the study of 1,000 parents and carers from youth mental health charity stem4 also found.
Of those surveyed, all with at least one child aged between 0 and 18 living at home, four in 10 (39%) say they are experiencing mental health difficulties (41% of men and 37% of women), compared with just under three in 10 at the onset of the pandemic.
However, only one in four (26%) report being able to access the treatment they need.
The mental health difficulties faced include stress (62%), anxiety (50%), depression (54%), post traumatic stress disorder (13%), anger and behaviour difficulties (9%), eating disorders (6%), and self-harming behaviours (5%). Some 17% of parents also say they are burned out and in a constant state of physical and emotional exhaustion.
Dr Nihara Krause, consultant clinical psychologist and founder of stem4, said: "It's highly worrying that four in 10 parents and carers say they are experiencing mental health difficulties, with only a quarter willing or able to access treatment.
"GPs are often the first port of call for parents in mental health distress, but service resources are being both significantly stretched and reduced, and the criteria for acceptance to mental health services are dauntingly high. The consequence is that so few parents are getting the help they need."
Dr Krause also highlights the point that meanwhile, children's and young people's mental health problems are at an all-time high, with these services stretched to breaking point, and making it harder for parents to support their own child when they too are struggling.
Of the four in 10 parents experiencing mental health difficulties, 44% say they have not asked for help, either because they don't want to make a fuss (46%), they feel ashamed (30%), they don't want to upset their family (22%) or have their family think less of them (23%), or they fear that help won't be available (13%).
And sadly, of the 56% who have asked for help, just half of parents (26%) are receiving treatment.
Parents believe their employers could do more to support their mental health and wellbeing. Although most working parents (77%) say their employer supports their mental health and wellbeing to a lesser (49%) or greater extent (28%), nine in 10 (90%) still struggle to balance the time they spend on paid work and/or household chores with time spent with other family members, neglecting their own needs.
However, parents and carers whose employers allow them to split their work between home and a a formal workplace are less likely to experience mental health difficulties (29%) than those whose options are to either only work from home or at a formal workplace (40%).
The parents and carers most likely to have mental health problems include those of adopted children (63%), single parents (52%), people on a low household income (49%), parents of children under the age of three (47%), and working parents on temporary contracts (46%).
Parents shared their thoughts in the stem4 survey, with one commenting, "I felt like I was being swallowed, going down a never-ending hole. Having just gone back to work after 10 months of maternity leave, and then thrown into lockdown, I couldn't cope."
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Another wrote, "My partner and I are in the same job – emergency workers. We haven't had a pay rise for at least 7 years. With rising costs, even with all our overtime, we can't afford to complete the necessary works needed to our home and I can't afford childcare. No wonder I am depressed!"
Another shared, "The pandemic has affected the mental health of my 16-year-old, who struggles to leave the house and I can't leave her alone for more than two hours. She's still waiting for treatment, and I have to work. I'm so stressed, but no one cares."
Dr Krause added, "Right now, many parents are feeling overwhelmed, negative, and helpless. Collectively we need to challenge the stigma associated with mental ill health by opening the conversation and to start tipping the balance towards positive mental health.
"A good start would be to highlight the urgent need to enhance family mental health from birth to adulthood, and to work collectively to properly fund a range of child, young personal and adult mental health services."
She says this would enable all groups to find resilient ways to deal with challenges that have emerged from the pandemic, and to stop the escalating impact of untreated mental ill health difficulties by improving access to effective treatments.
If you need to help to #TiptheBalancetoPositive – stem4's Parent Mental Health Day theme this year – you can access its Balance Pack via its website for tools to help individually, for your family, as an employee, as an employer and more.
Or, find more of their free downloadable resources covering everything from depression, to coronavirus advice to useful mental health apps.
You can also use the hashtag above, along with #PMHD to find other resources that might be near you, connect with other people going through a similar thing, or even share your own thoughts – as Dr Krause said, opening up the conversation is key.
Outside of the campaign, there are always free services just a phone call or click away:
Mind: 0300 123 3393 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Samaritans: 116 123 or email@example.com
Rainbow Trust: 01372 363438 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Young Minds: text YM to 85258 if you are a young person or call 0808 802 5544 if you are a parent