The COVID-19 pandemic presents significant risks to population mental health. Despite evidence of detrimental effects for adults, there has been limited examination of the impact of COVID-19 on parents and children specifically. We aim to examine 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 to identify families most at risk of poor outcomes according to pre-existing demographic and individual 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 = 2365). Parents completed an online self-report survey 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 depression, anxiety, and stress (Cohen’s d = 0.26–0.81, all p < 0.001), higher parenting irritability (d = 0.17–0.46, all p < 0.001), lower family positive expressiveness (d = − 0.18, p < 0.001), and higher alcohol consumption (22% vs 12% drinking four or more days per week, p < 0.001). In multivariable analyses, we consistently found that younger parent age, increased financial deprivation, pre-existing parent and child physical and mental health conditions, COVID-19 psychological and environmental stressors, and housing dissatisfaction were associated with worse parent and child functioning and more strained family relationships. 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.
Bibliographical noteThis pre-print is available under a CC-By Attribution 4.0 International licence
Funding: EW, AM, and GK were supported by Deakin Faculty of Health Mid-Career Fellowships. DH was supported by a NHMRC Investigator Grant (1197488). ES was supported by an NHMRC Career Development Fellowship (1110688), a Medical Research Future Fund Investigator Grant (1194297) and a Veski Inspiring Women’s Fellowship. LO was supported by an NHMRC Early Career Fellowship (1158487).
- Child mental health
- Couple conflict
- COVID-19 pandemic
- Family functioning
- Mental health