Many parents were depressed, anxious and drinking more during COVID-19 lockdown: report

Nearly 60 per cent of parents displayed at least some symptoms of clinical depression while trying to manage their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lead researcher says most of the respondents were women

A new McMaster University report shows nearly 40 per cent of parents and caregivers had symptoms of depression during the COVID-19 lockdown. (Erik White/CBC)

Nearly 60 per cent of parents displayed at least some symptoms of clinical depression while trying to manage their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That's according to new survey results released by McMaster University's Offord Centre for Child Studies. 

Researchers surveyed 7,434 caregivers and parents, which represented 14,000 children across Ontario, from May 5 to June 19. 

The results found nearly 60 per cent of them displayed symptoms of depression, including losing sleep and feeling overwhelmed, and 40 per cent said their children's behaviour or mood had deteriorated during the lockdown. Just over one-third said the pandemic caused the family to lose money. 

Andrea Gonzalez, assisting professor of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences, said this shows the need to not underestimate what parents and families are going through during isolation and lockdowns.

"It was very surprising," she said.

(McMaster University)

"We had a sense that families and caregivers were probably struggling during the lockdown, but close to 60 per cent meeting the criteria for clinical depression was extremely surprising."

Gonzalez's team spread the word about the survey through social media, online ads and email mailouts through schools, health units and other agencies. Most of the respondents were women.

The responses revealed mood disorders had grown to 10 times when compared to the previous year, and one-third of caregivers were feeling moderate to severe anxiety. Of those, 32.6 per cent described their anxiety as mild, and 12.3 per cent said it was severe.

It also found that while 45.6 per cent of respondents reported no change in their alcohol consumption, 37.5 per cent were drinking more. This is higher than reports from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, Gonzalez said in the summary. 

(McMaster University)

Of those who use cannabis, 87.5 per cent were using more. 

Gonzalez said the team is still looking at which regions of the province reported higher depression and stress. 

Here are some other findings:

  • 21 per cent of parents got into long arguments with their children over behavioural issues.
  • 40 per cent said they were harder on their kids when they were stressed or upset.
  • 13 per cent didn't have enough money for the necessary supplies or food. Four per cent couldn't pay their rent or mortgage. 
  • 15 per cent didn't have access to the technology, or an internet connection, during the lockdown so their kids could learn at home.
  • 5.8 per cent of families said someone close to them had died.
  • 49 per cent said they had more conflict with their partner or spouse.
  • Nearly 10 per cent said there had been more verbal or physical conflict in the home. 
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Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca