A study on the impact of the pandemic on families shows depression, anxiety this year worse than in the first wave

“My stress level went from zero to one hundred,” recalls Brampton’s mother. “I never had downtime.”

When the third wave of COVID-19 infections in Ontario closed schools last spring, Talika Walsh thought she could handle work from home while her teens learned remotely.

Any pause in his day was spent desperately trying to get 13-year-old Ajani, who has autism and does not speak, to focus on his activities. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Trevon, a normally outgoing boy, was physically isolated from his friends and hid in his room doing class work.

“I was exhausted,” said the single mother, adding that she felt anxious and exhausted. “It just turned my whole world upside down.”

She is far from alone, according to a new report released Monday detailing the results of the second Ontario Parent Survey. Researchers from McMaster University and the Offord Center for Child Studies are tracking the impact of the pandemic on the health and well-being of families. In some key areas, parents were worse off this year than last year.

“Overall symptoms of depression and anxiety were higher than our original findings during the first wave,” said the lead researcher. Andrea Gonzalez placeholder image, Associate Professor and Canada Tier II Research Chair in Family Health and Preventive Interventions.

During the first wave 7,434 parents surveyed and caregivers with children up to 17 years old. This year, between May 4 and July 3, during the third wave, they got comments from 10,778 respondents.

Last year, 57 percent of caregivers reported experiencing significant depressive symptoms in the past week, compared to 69 percent this year. Also last year, 30 percent reported moderate to high anxiety levels, compared to 38 percent this year.

Nearly half of the parents surveyed this year said they had sought help from a mental health professional and 40 percent reported needing help at least once during the pandemic but did not receive it.

“One of the surprising findings was when we asked people why they did not seek (help), there was a high proportion who did not even know where to go for help, or the waiting times were too long,” González said. , who co-authored the report with Harriet MacMillan, Professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurosciences and Behavioral Pediatrics.

“We need to send some messages on how to help families cope … There are resources, but they are not easy to find.”

More than a third of those surveyed this year said the pandemic harmed their children, particularly a lack of in-person learning and feelings of social isolation.

Although the situation has improved due to the decrease in infection rates, the increase in vaccination numbers and the return to learning in school, González suspects: “It will take some time for many to recover and not feel the repercussions.”

“There will be a number of people and children who will recover. They are tough. And now that the landscape has changed, their moods have probably changed and they are probably feeling better. But there will be a subset that will continue to fight. “

The researchers plan to conduct a third survey in early 2022 to see how families cope.

Brampton’s mother, Walsh, is feeling better now that both boys are back in school and she works in an office at a call center. She credits the counseling sessions for caregivers, organized by parent councils in her children’s schools, with helping her develop coping strategies. And on those toughest days, he paid out of pocket for a relief worker to spend time with Ajani so she could have a break.

But he is still concerned about the impacts of Ajani’s learning loss and Trevon’s reintegration into his social network. Many respondents echoed those sentiments, with about two-thirds reporting moderate to high levels of concern about the impact of the pandemic on their children’s education.

Mississauga mother Romana Siddiqui, who has three children, said learning loss from the pandemic was a “great concern.” 17-year-old Adam was stressed out about the qualifications needed for college admission; Sara, 14, was looking forward to the transition to high school this year; and Yusuf, 12, missed some assignments.

“In our family, academics are really important,” said the stay-at-home mom, who is also a community advocate and parent activist. “But we had to break free and let go of each and every expectation and be in survival mode.”

In late June, Siddiqui retired from his volunteer activism job for the summer to give himself a break. “I was feeling exhausted, but you can’t bail your family so I had to put some of my work aside.”

She is still trying to catch up. Your children too. Her two youngest children are now struggling academically and receiving tutoring at school. She is also considering private tutoring.

“There are entire segments of our societies that don’t have access to private tutoring, they can’t afford it,” said Siddiqui, chair of the Peel District School Board Parent Involvement Committee. “I am concerned that we are going to have a whole section of children for whom this affects their long-term results.

“The children are still struggling a lot with school. They are back in school, but the size of the classrooms is bigger than ever and there is a lot to catch up on. “

Hamilton’s mother, Lindsay Croswell, is waiting to see the report cards of her daughters Amelia, 9, and Rozlyn, 7, for a deeper understanding of what they may have missed. They are both immersed in French, but neither Croswell nor her husband speak French.

“That was the biggest stress we had: trying to help them.”

And back in the days when Amelia had virtual dance lessons, after full days of virtual learning, “we saw some negative impacts on behavior … I was incredibly tired of doing things on screen.”

As a caregiver during an “incredibly stressful” time, Croswell said she was unable to do the things she normally does, like play volleyball and baseball, which led to weight gain and a change in eating patterns.

The stress was compounded by the death of his father and grandfather. Neither died of COVID, but both were in intensive care units during the pandemic. “It just made it ten times worse because you didn’t have the same supports,” he said.

The reopening of schools was instrumental in alleviating some of the stress from the pandemic, he said.

“We have not fully recovered financially,” she said, adding that her husband is a contractor who did not work for four months. “And part of the trauma.”

Croswell is the only parent Star spoke to who participated in the survey. As a public health nurse who is an end user of much research, she felt it was important to participate.

“It’s such a significant moment in history that contributing to a snapshot of it felt like the least I could do.”


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