Kids and partners made pandemic easier to bear

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People who sheltered with their children or romantic partners reported better mental health during the pandemic than those who lived alone, a study finds.

Despite the obvious stressors—cramped quarters, school closures, the chaos of waxing and waning childcare options, coupled with a lack of personal space and boundaries—the researchers report that living with one’s children or a significant other during the pandemic was still better than living alone.

The researchers followed two diverse US population samples totaling 1,200 participants right before and during the first six months of the pandemic.

Among their findings:

  • People living with their children (versus those not living with children, which included non-parents and parents not currently living with their children) experienced better mental health before and during the first six months of the pandemic.
  • People living with their romantic partner (versus those not living with a partner, which included people not in a relationship and those in a relationship who weren’t living with their partner) experienced better mental health before and during the first six months of the pandemic.
  • Although parents experienced a higher spike in anxiety and depression at the onset of the pandemic, they also recovered more quickly.
  • Even people living with roommates, friends, or extended family struggled with the same mental health difficulties as those living alone.

Study coauthor Bonnie Le, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, who helped with the team’s analysis and interpretation of the findings, says the results suggest “that despite the complexities and stresses that many families faced when forced to shelter in place, the benefits of having close others was an invaluable resource during the pandemic.”

Study leader Natalie Sisson, PhD student in social psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, notes that the data don’t explain why some groups fared better. She says she believes it’s likely that parenting provided a sense of purpose, while being with a romantic partner increased social fulfillment and stress-reducing intimacy, all of which contribute to an overall sense of well-being.

“We know that living with close others such as our children and romantic partners can benefit our mental health, and that’s also been true during the pandemic,” she says.

The findings appear in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

Source: University of Rochester via Don Campbell and Kate Martin, University of Toronto