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Coronavirus-related stress is particularly high among parents, survey finds

Almost half (46 percent) of American parents are experiencing a high level of stress during the pandemic, compared with 28 percent of non-parents. Pandemic-related stress is also having a disproportionate effect on communities of color.

Almost half of American parents are experiencing a high level of stress during the pandemic. That compares with 28 percent of non-parents.
Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

The results of a new “Stress in America” survey was published by the American Psychological Association (APA) on Thursday. Its overall finding  — that “many Americans are experiencing considerable stress related to the coronavirus and are also reporting higher levels of general stress than in recent years” — is not going to surprise anyone.

What may be surprising, however, is the survey’s finding regarding the size of the psychological toll that COVID-19 is taking on parents. The stress level reported by parents averages more than 20 percent higher than that reported by adults without kids, the survey found.

Indeed, almost half (46 percent) of American parents are experiencing a high level of stress during the pandemic. That compares with 28 percent of non-parents.

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“For many parents, it can feel overwhelming to face competing demands at home and work along with possible financial challenges during this unprecedented crisis,” says Arthur Evans Jr., the APA’s chief executive officer, in a statement released with the survey.

The survey also found that pandemic-related stress is having a disproportionate effect on communities of color. For example, 71 percent of people of color report that worrying about getting COVID-19 is causing them significant stress, compared to 59 percent of whites. People of color are also more likely than whites — 61 percent versus 47 percent — to be worried during the pandemic about meeting basic needs, such as food and housing,

The survey, conducted for the APA by the Harris Poll, involved a representative sample of 3,013 U.S. adults aged 18 and older. The interviews were done online in both English and Spanish between April 24 and May 4.

Added stress for parents

The average level of stress reported by the survey’s participants was 5.4 on a 10-point scale  (with 1 meaning “little or no stress” and 10 meaning “a great deal of stress”). This is considerably higher than the average stress level of 4.9 reported in the 2019 Annual Stress in America survey taken late last summer.

It’s also the first significant increase in the average reported stress level since the survey began in 2007, the APA notes.

American Psychological Association
Parents with children under the age of 18 are experiencing even more stress than the general public, however. They report an average stress level of 6.7 on the 10-point scale. And for almost half (46 percent) of those parents, the stress level is in the “high” range  — between 8 and 10 on the scale.

Only 28 percent of people without children under the age of 18 say they are experiencing similarly high levels of stress.

The sources of the parents’ anxiety and worry are many. In addition to concerns that they or someone in their family may get COVID-19, about seven in 10 parents say that managing their child’s online learning is a significant cause of stress, and about six in 10 say the same about missing out on major milestones, such as a graduation ceremony.

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Parents are also much more likely than non-parents (70 percent versus 44 percent) to be stressed about their family’s ability to meet its basic needs.

Worries about government response

For many Americans — 7 in 10 — the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a significant source of anxiety. Although this stressor is more likely to be cited by parents than non-parents (74 percent versus 63 percent), it crosses all political and geographical boundaries.

Nearly three-fourths of Democrats (73 percent), and about two-thirds of registered independents (67 percent) and Republicans (63 percent) cite the government’s response to the pandemic as a significant source of stress in their lives, as do large majorities of people in the Midwest (70 percent), Northeast (70 percent), South (65 percent) and West (64 percent).

American Psychological Association
Understandably, the survey also found that financial- and job-related worries have caused considerable stress for many Americans during the pandemic. Seven in 10 adults report that the economy is a major stressor in their lives — up from 46 percent in 2019 and on par with the previous Stress in America-reported high of 69 percent in 2008, during the Great Recession.

“The mental health ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic are immense and growing,” Evans warns. “We need to prepare for the long-term implications of the collective trauma facing the population.”

“On an individual level this means looking out for one another, staying connected, keeping active and seeking help when necessary,” he adds.

FMI: You can read the APA’s report on the survey on the organization’s website.