Impact of COVID-19 on mental health of families, interactions and home environments

This research is led by Dr Rebecca Pearson

Mental health issues were increasing before the pandemic, particularly for mothers and young people. The additional pressures that COVID-19 has placed on many children and parents could have long-term implications for their mental health, which could affect the level and type of support they will need in the years to come.

Aims and impact

This project aims to understand the impact of public health measures – put in place to control COVID-19 – on young children and family interactions.

Emotional difficulties in early childhood can predict future mental health problems. Having a better understanding of which families are most affected will help services know who to target for additional support.

What we are doing

We are tracking patterns of family mental health through questionnaires to participants in the University’s Children of the 90s study. We have also provided some participants with wearable video-cameras to record family interactions at home.

We are using the footage collected to compare family interactions from before the pandemic and now. This gives us a better understanding of how emotional issues manifest, and how we can support healthier interactions in families.

What we have found so far

Early findings from our questionnaires have identified some potential ‘protective mechanisms’ for family mental health. For example, keeping to a routine during the pandemic – including the same bedtime and mealtimes – seemed to help mothers’ anxiety and also children’s emotional health.

How we have involved people

Participating families have been involved throughout the research process, from discussing their reasons for taking part in the study, to working with them to refine the wearable camera technology.

Impact on policy

Throughout the pandemic, we have provided relevant findings from the Children of the 90s study to Public Health England through HDR UK and SAGE reports. For example, evidence showing that people living alone were more vulnerable to depression and anxiety helped to drive policy changes around support bubbles.