Hybrid school during the COVID-19 pandemic—and working from home—were both associated with worse parental mental health, a new study finds.
Having a child attend a private school or school with above-average instructional quality was associated with better mental health of parents, according to the study, among the first to present the interaction of school and workplace policies and other environmental and economic effects on the mental health, hopelessness, anxiety, and worry of working parents in the US.
“This is a piece of my research in which I genuinely connected,” says Sarah Moreland-Russell, associate professor of practice at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and first author of the study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
“I cared for two children during the COVID-19 pandemic and definitely experienced the challenges and stress similar to many other parents across the US,” she says. “This study also brings to light the gaps in family support, inequities in school quality and learning, and breaks in our system that existed prior to COVID-19 and were further exacerbated by the event.
“If there is a ‘good’ that results from the pandemic, I hope that it is in the form of policies that provide supports (financial, health, education, etc.) to families and children and that are designed to actually address and eliminate inequities in education, mental health, health, and access.”
Moreland-Russell and her coauthors analyzed results of the Socio-Economic Impacts of COVID-19 Survey: United States. The survey captures a diverse array of household experiences during the pandemic through a detailed set of questions concerning both adults and children in the household.
They found several key takeaways:
- Parents across the US had to navigate an ever-changing schooling and child care environment during the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in worse mental health for many, especially those with young children; those working from home; and those with inconsistent learning environment options for their children.
- Female parents were especially affected, likely due to the established imbalance in caregiving in US households.
- The researchers noted inequities in mental health strain as those parents who were lower income and less educated experienced worse mental health.
“While a significant amount of school policy decision-making was advanced based on public health guidance, in many cases those decisions were made without acknowledging the large strain being put on working parents, who had to act as teachers and child care workers, while navigating a rapidly changing pandemic and still trying to make ends meet,” Moreland-Russell says.
She says, based on this research, that in the future, schools should focus on providing high-quality education and student supports within one learning modality, rather than trying to handle multiple modalities, like in-person and remote learning, simultaneously.