COVID-19: What is parental burnout and how can parents find support? – Community News
Covid-19

COVID-19: What is parental burnout and how can parents find support?

  • Research by a UK children’s charity has found that over 80% of parents struggle with at least one symptom of burnout as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • More than half of mothers have experienced anxiety.
  • The impact of the pandemic on children’s education and mental health are two major concerns.
  • Experts explain what parental burnout is and what parents can do to alleviate it.

“I feel like I’m on a ride and can’t get out.”

“I just want to leave this house and never come back.”

“I feel like I’m drowning.”

These words are all taken from real conversations a UK helpline has had with parents during the pandemic – and they shed light on the parental burnout that many are still experiencing today around the world.

At the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, approximately 1.4 billion children were out of school. According to data from UNICEF, the UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian and development assistance to children worldwide, as of September 2021, 18 months later, schools were still closed for 77 million children. And parents and caregivers bore the burden of homeschooling.

Research by the British children’s charity Action for Children shows that most British parents struggle with symptoms of burnout.

The UK is one of many countries that are now out of lockdown, but parents are feeling the effects. They juggle daycare and homeschooling with work, all the while worrying about their children’s lost education and mental health, and that life is still not “normal.”

One in four people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, costing the global economy an estimated $6 trillion by 2030.

Mental health problems are the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people aged 10 to 24, contributing up to 45% of the total burden of disease in this age group. Yet globally, young people have the worst access to youth mental health services throughout their lives and at all stages of the illness (particularly during the early stages).

In response, the Forum has launched a global dialogue series to discuss the ideas, tools and architecture in which public and private stakeholders can build an ecosystem for mental health promotion and disease management.


One of its current key priorities is to support global efforts for mental health outcomes – promoting key recommendations for achieving global mental health goals, such as the WHO Knowledge-Action-Portal and the Countdown Global Mental Health

Learn more about the work of our Platform for Shaping the Future of Health and Healthcare and contact us to get involved.

a graph showing how parents experiencing burnout feel emotionally exhausted

Parents who experience burnout feel emotionally exhausted.

Image: Journal of Child and Family Studies

What is parental burnout and why is it a problem?

Parental burnout was first identified in the 1980s by Belgian researchers Moïra Mikolajczak and Isabelle Roskam as “a prolonged response to chronic and overwhelming parental stress”.

They say the condition is characterized by “overwhelming parental exhaustion, emotional distance from the children, and a sense of parental ineffectiveness.”

Although it has similarities with a burnout, with a job you can hand in your termination if it becomes too much for you. Raising children was out of the question during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

“It’s the burnout that we can’t talk about that can be very isolating,” clinical psychologist Robyn Koslowitz recently told the Los Angeles Times.

Financial worries can add to the pressures of parenting, which many parents may have experienced more acutely during the pandemic.

In its most extreme cases, parental burnout can lead to the use of alcohol as a form of escape and suicidal thoughts, note Mikolajczak and Roskam, which are “more common in parental burnout than in workplace burnout or even depression”.

“This finding is not surprising given that a person cannot resign from their parenting role or be put on sick leave by their children.”

It can also lead to parents neglecting their children or even becoming violent, Mikolajczak says.

“Parents who do these things often feel embarrassed, so they fret about their behavior and wake up the next day more tired and sensitive, which exacerbates the negative behavior,” she told the American Psychological Association (APA).

What can parents do?

Getting help and talking to other parents or a helpline is essential.

Family physician and mother of two Ayla McCamphill-Rose spoke to Parent Talk when her youngest son struggled with his mental health.

“It was a lifeline to talk to someone who could not only support me with my own mental health, but also give me very practical, realistic advice that I could work on with my son.”

In October 2021, the APA asked psychologists for tips for parents, including how to reevaluate stress. Those who saw the lockdown in a positive light were less likely to be exhausted.

“How many parents experienced burnout depended on how they saw the lockdown,” Roskam said. “For some, it was a chance to take some much-needed time with their kids, while others saw it as a nightmare.”

Self-care is also an important way to relieve stress. While parents usually don’t have much time to themselves, taking micro-breaks — even just five minutes to catch your breath in an enclosed bathroom — can help, the APA says.

dr. Amy Imms, founder of The Burnout Project, recommends “letting go of the expectations imposed by others” and “schedule time to do things you enjoy.”

“If you can manage to find time for yourself, try not to feel guilty,” she told First Five Years.

“Remind yourself that this will make you a better parent and that you can set an example to your child about the importance of self-care.”