Parents and unpaid caregivers of adults in the United States reported far higher rates of mental health issues during the coronavirus pandemic than people who held neither of those roles, federal researchers reported on Thursday.
About 70 percent of parents and adult caregivers — such as those tending to older people, for example — and about 85 percent of people who were both reported adverse mental health symptoms during the pandemic, versus about a third of people who did not hold those responsibilities, according to new research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study also found that people who were both parent and caregivers were eight times more likely to have seriously considered suicide than people who held neither role.
“These findings highlight that parents and caregivers, especially those balancing roles both as parents and caregivers, experienced higher levels of adverse mental health symptoms during the Covid-19 pandemic than adults without these responsibilities,” the authors said.
“Caregivers who had someone to rely on for support had lower odds of experiencing any adverse mental health symptoms,” they said.
The report follows innumerable anecdotes and several studies suggesting spikes in mental health problems among parents and caregivers during the pandemic. But the new C.D.C. report noted that “without prepandemic mental health data in this sample, whether adverse mental health symptoms were caused by or worsened by the pandemic is unknown.”
The study is based on data from online English-language surveys administered to panels of U.S. residents run by Qualtrics, a company that conducts commercial surveys, for the Covid-19 Outbreak Public Evaluation Initiative, an effort to track American attitudes and behaviors during the pandemic. The data was gathered from Dec. 6 to 27 last year, and from Feb. 16 to March 8 of this year, and relied on 10,444 respondents, weighted to match U.S. demographic data, 42 percent of whom identified as parents or adult caregivers.
The study noted that the results might not fully represent the U.S. population, because of factors like the surveys only being presented online and in English.
The surveys included screening items for depression, anxiety, Covid-19 trauma and stress-related disorders, and asked respondents whether they had experienced suicidal thinking in the past month. About half of the parent-caregivers who responded said that they had recently had suicidal thoughts.
Elizabeth A. Rohan, a health scientist at the C.D.C. and one of the study’s authors, said in an interview that the study’s large sample size and a broad definition of caregiver allowed for an inclusive picture of people in that role.
“Our net captured more people than other surveys,” Dr. Rohan said.
Dr. Rohan said that the study reinforced the need to destigmatize mental health issues among caregivers and for better support systems. Communication is key, she said, and “it doesn’t have to be professional help.”
She added, “We cannot underestimate the importance of staying connected to one another,” which is helpful whether the person is “a trusted friend, a family member or a professional.”