COVID-19 disproportionately affecting mental, physical health of families with children
Measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 may be having a significant negative impact on the mental and physical well-being of parents and their children, according to results of a survey study published in Pediatrics.
“COVID-19 and measures to control its spread have had a substantial effect on the nation's children,” Stephen Patrick, MD, MPH, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy and a neonatologist at Children's Hospital in Nashville, said in a press release. "Today an increasing number of the nation's children are going hungry, losing employer-sponsored insurance and their regular childcare. The situation is urgent and requires immediate attention from federal and state policymakers.”
Protective measures, including physical distancing, resulted in the closures of schools, workplaces, community programs and childcare, and studies have found these changes were linked to social isolation, psychological distress among adults and significant economic distress. Further, families with children are more likely to live in poverty, which may increase the risk for economic distress through acute job loss and associated difficulties. These stressors may increase families’ psychological strain, according to Patrick and colleagues.
In the current national survey conducted in the U.S., the investigators aimed to determine how the pandemic and related quarantine efforts affected the emotional and physical well-being of children and parents in the U.S. through early June. They administered the survey to parents with children younger than 18 years on changes in their health, insurance status, childcare, use of public food assistance resource, food security and use of health care services since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Results showed 27% of parents reported worsening mental health for themselves, and 14% reported worsening behavioral health for their children since March. Before vs. after March, the proportion of families with moderate or severe food insecurity increased from 6% to 8%, employer-sponsored insurance coverage of children decreased from 63% to 60% and 24% of parents reported losing regular childcare. Further, parental worsening mental health occurred along with worsening child behavioral health for children in nearly one in 10 families. Of these families, 48% reported loss of regular childcare, 16% reported insurance status change and 11% reported worsening food security.
“As clinicians, we are often on the front lines of the intersections of families’ medical and social needs,” Patrick told Healio Psychiatry. “Parents and children in distress are experiencing wide disruptions in their lives. Especially now, when we see our patients we need to be thinking about these issues and how we can address them. COVID-19 and measures to mitigate its spread have had a substantial effect on families.”