Deakin University

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Child, parent, and family mental health and functioning in Australia during COVID-19: Comparison to pre-pandemic data

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 06:01 authored by Elizabeth WestruppElizabeth Westrupp, Clair Bennett, Tomer BerkowitzTomer Berkowitz, George Joseph Youssef, John Toumbourou, Richard Tucker, Fiona Andrews, Subhadra Evans, Sam Teague, Gery KarantzasGery Karantzas, Glenn MelvinGlenn Melvin, Craig OlssonCraig Olsson, Jacqui MacdonaldJacqui Macdonald, Christopher Greenwood, Antonina Mikocka-Walus, Delyse Hutchinson, Matthew Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, Mark StokesMark Stokes, Lisa Olive, Amanda WoodAmanda Wood, Jane McGillivray, Emma Sciberras

The COVID-19 pandemic presents significant risks to the mental health and wellbeing of families. This study aimed to examine: (1) patterns of parent and child (0–18 years) mental health, parent substance use, couple conflict, parenting practices, and family functioning during COVID-19 compared to pre-pandemic data; and (2) associations between parent, child, and family outcomes during the pandemic and both pre-existing risk factors and COVID-19 stressors. Participants were Australian mothers (81%) and fathers aged 18 years and over who were parents of a child 0–18 years (N=2,365). Parents completed an online self-report survey assessing mental health, substance use, couple conflict, parenting, and family functioning during ‘stage three’ COVID-19 restrictions in April 2020. Data were compared to pre-pandemic data from four Australian population-based cohorts. Compared to pre-pandemic estimates, during the pandemic period parents reported higher rates of parent mental health symptoms (Cohen’s d=0.26-.81, all p<.001), higher parenting irritability (d=0.17-.46, all p<.001), lower family positive expressiveness (d=-0.18, p<.001), and higher alcohol consumption (22% vs 12% drinking four or more days per week, p<.001). In multivariable analyses, pre-existing financial deprivation and COVID-19 stressors were associated with greater severity in parent and child mental health symptoms, parent emotion dysregulation, parenting irritability, couple conflict and family positive/negative expressiveness. Parents and children with pre-existing mental health conditions had elevated difficulties during the pandemic across most domains. Our data suggest wide-ranging, detrimental family impacts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic; and support policy actions to assist families with financial supports, leave entitlements, and social housing.


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