Australian families have opened up about the way COVID-19 has shaped their lives in a national survey.
The Deakin University-led COVID-19 Pandemic Adjustment Survey (CPAS) asked parents to share the experience of living through the first national lockdown in April.
From “it has stopped our lives” to “spending more time together has strengthened bonds”, the CPAS responses reveal the varied social, emotional and financial toll of the pandemic control measures on families across the nation.
Research lead Dr Elizabeth Westrupp, senior lecturer and clinical psychologist in Deakin’s Centre for Social and Early Emotional Development (SEED) in the School of Psychology, said many families found the lockdown enormously stressful while others found ways to enjoy the changed circumstances.
“The extremes at both ends of the COVID-19 experience spectrum were noteworthy.
“Some parents reported very concerning mental health challenges in themselves and their children as a result of the restrictions and financial stress.
“In contrast, a minority of parents reported finding meaning, and even delight, in the situation, finding new hobbies and opportunities to connect with immediate family members.”
The CPAS asked 2,365 parents (who all had at least one child no older than 18) to detail the impacts of the lockdown on family life between April 8-28 this year.
The research team identified six main themes:
- Boredom, depression and suicide – a spectrum of emotion
- Families missing the things that keep them healthy
- Changing family relationships – the push-pull of intimacy
- The unprecedented demands of parenthood
- The unequal burden of COVID-19
- Holding on to positivity.
In a separate analysis of the CPAS data, the researchers looked at factors that boosted resilience in families. They found parents who admitted to feeling lonely were more likely to experience depression and other poor mental health outcomes, such as anxiety and stress.
“We wanted to identify those factors that build resilience and help people bounce back after adversity and major stress,” Dr Westrupp said.
“Not surprisingly, we found parents had a greater capacity to cope if they were less stressed, less anxious and less depressed.
“Their levels of resilience were also much higher if they identified as extraverts, or saw themselves as outgoing and social.
“And partners played a significant role in how people coped. People with supportive partners were more resilient and less depressed. But the reported levels of loneliness were surprising as many parents admitted feeling lonely even when they had family members and children in the home.”
She said it was assumed only those people living alone struggled with feelings of loneliness, but CPAS revealed the sense of isolation was more widely felt.
“We now understand that to improve the mental health of parents during future pandemics or major disasters we will need to focus on reducing loneliness, and understand that those under financial hardship and dealing with pre-existing difficulties are especially in need of policy designed to support them.”