Leona O'Neill: Shocking number of parents worried about their mental health

Parents' mental health has become a huge concern as we worry about paying bills, keeping our kids and elderly relatives safe and our families' health and futures, writes Leona O'Neill

In a recent survey in Northern Ireland 86 per cent of parents said that they were concerned about their own mental health in the pandemic

A survey released last week has revealed that 86 per cent of parents are concerned about their mental health in the midst of the pandemic. And is it any wonder?

Parents are worrying about their family’s health, their own health and the health of their older relatives. They are carrying the burden of finances, trying to keep a job or ensure a business isn’t put to the wall because of the virus. They are concerned about paying their bills, keeping a roof over their children’s heads and food in their bellies. And all while trying to stay calm and in control.

The shocking statistic was revealed in the Children in Northern Ireland (CiNI)’s Health and Wellbeing of Parents Survey which was carried out in two parts, the first during lockdown in May and June and the second as more restrictions were lifted during August and September.

Of the 201 respondents, 93 per cent expressed concern over their child’s wellbeing and 91 per cent about their child’s future. Some 85 per cent of parents surveyed were worried about their child’s education and 79 per cent had a concern about the behaviour experienced by their child.

Perhaps understandably, 86 per cent of those surveyed admitted that they had concerns about their own mental health, with the same number of parents expressing concern about their finances. Some 62 per cent of parents said they were worried about losing their jobs. This increased from 39 per cent in the first survey, with 52 per cent of respondents acknowledging that they were currently in a relationship which is causing them stress.

The worry and anxiety of parents was further highlighted by statistics from CiNI’s regional parenting helpline – Parentline NI – which received 2,340 calls and over 700 webchats from April to September.

It is only natural for us parents, the heads of our households, to feel worry and concern during these, the most surreal of days our generation or any future generation might face.

The pandemic is putting stress on many families, not least financial stress

Pauline Leeson, CBE, chief executive of Children in Northern Ireland explained that since the end of March 2020 the coronavirus crisis brought a lot of sudden changes for families.

“While parenting can be very rewarding, the sudden change in circumstances has been challenging, with many parents feeling stressed as they try to balance work, childcare and self-care while dealing with an array of emotions and concerns,” she said.

“The results of this survey have shown that the levels of stress and concern parents have been experiencing since March have continued to grow. The top stressor for parents is in relation to their child’s future, which is quickly followed by their education, and in light of the most recent restrictions and continued uncertainty, we believe this anxiety will only increase in the months ahead.”

“Worryingly, 86 per cent of parents surveyed admitted that they are concerned about their own mental health and it is clear that this has been adversely affected by the lockdown and the subsequent problems associated with opening up services. What’s more, changes to the mental health and wellbeing of parents can sometimes affect the health and wellbeing of their children as they may pick up on a parent’s anxiety or low mood.

“The financial impact the crisis is having is a continued concern for parents. Unfortunately, Northern Ireland already had a growing and unacceptable level of child and family poverty. Now the economic and financial impact of Covid-19 is likely to see a whole new level of poverty and related issues especially for those parents who are already vulnerable or struggling financially,” said Pauline.

“Concerns from parents during lockdown and subsequent easing of restrictions continue to raise many issues – many of which continue to be exacerbated by a lack of return to normal life or support services.

“This survey shows that parents continue to struggle – even as services eased. The government must do more to address these gaping flaws in recent policy decisions to ensure that families, children and young people fully recover from the Covid-19 crisis.”

Parentline NI offers advice, support and guidance on every issue a parent is facing and is there if you just need to speak to a friendly, listening ear. The service is open Monday to Thursday from 9am-9pm, Friday 9am-5pm and Saturday from 9am-1pm and you can call free on 0808 8020 400 or chat online at

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