“My stress level went from zero to one hundred,” recalled the Brampton mother. “I never had any down time.”
As the third wave of COVID-19 infections in Ontario shuttered schools last spring, Talika Walsh figured she could manage working from home while her teenagers did remote learning.
Any break in her day was spent desperately trying to get 13-year-old Ajani, who has autism and is non-verbal, to focus on his activities. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Trevon, a normally outgoing kid, was physically cut off from his friends and holed up in his room doing classwork.
“I was just drained,” said the single mother, adding she felt anxious and burnt-out. “It just turned my whole world upside down.”
She’s far from alone, according to a new report published Monday detailing results of the second Ontario Parent Survey. Researchers at McMaster University and the Offord Centre for Child Studies are tracking the impact of the pandemic on the health and well-being of families. In some key areas parents were worse off this year than last year.
“The overall depressive and anxiety symptoms were higher than our original findings during the first wave,” said lead researcher Andrea Gonzalez, associate professor and Tier II Canada Research Chair in Family Health and Preventative Interventions.
During the first wave they surveyed 7,434 parents and caregivers with children up to age 17. This year, between May 4 and July 3, during the third wave, they garnered input from 10,778 respondents.
Last year, 57 per cent of caregivers reported feeling significant depressive symptoms in the previous week, compared with 69 per cent this year. Also last year, 30 per cent reported moderate to high levels of anxiety, compared with 38 per cent this year.
Almost half of parents surveyed this year said they had sought help from a mental health professional and 40 per cent reported needing help at least once during the pandemic, but not getting it.
“One of the striking findings was when we asked people why they didn’t seek out (help), there was a high proportion who didn’t even know where to go for help, or the wait times were too long,” said Gonzalez, who co-authored the report with Harriet MacMillan, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences and Pediatrics.
“We need to get some messaging out about how to help families cope … Resources are out there, they’re just not easy to find.”
More than one-third surveyed this year said the pandemic harmed their kids, in particular the lack of in-person learning and feelings of social isolation.
While the situation has improved due to declining infection rates, increased vaccination numbers and a return to in-school learning, Gonzalez suspects, “It’s going to take some time for many to recover and to not be feeling the repercussions.”
“There are going to be a number of people and children who bounce back. They’re resilient. And now that the landscape has changed, their moods have probably changed and they’re probably feeling better. But there is going to be a subset who continue to struggle.”
Researchers plan on doing a third survey in the early 2022 to see how families are coping.
Walsh, the Brampton mother, is feeling better now that both boys are back in school, and she’s working in an office at a call centre. She credits counselling sessions for caregivers, organized by the parent councils at her boys’ schools, with helping her develop coping strategies. And on those toughest days, she paid out-of-pocket for a relief worker to spend time with Ajani so she could have a break.
But she still worries about the impacts of Ajani’s learning loss and the reintegration of Trevon back into his social network. Those feelings were echoed by many surveyed, with about two-thirds reporting moderate to high levels of concern about the pandemic’s impact on their children’s education.
Mississauga mother Romana Siddiqui, who has three children, said learning loss over the pandemic was a “huge concern.” Adam, 17, was stressed about the necessary grades for university admission; Sara, 14, was anxious about transitioning to high school this year; and Yusuf, 12, didn’t complete some assignments.
“In our family, academics is really important,” said the stay-at-home mom, who’s also a community advocate and parent activist. “But we had to just sort of release and let go of any, and all, expectations and just sort of be in survivor mode.”
By the end of June, Siddiqui withdrew from her volunteer activism work over the summer to give herself a break. “I was feeling burnt out, but you can’t bail on your family, so I had to put aside some of my work.”
She’s still trying to get caught up. So are her kids. Her two youngest are now struggling academically and they are being tutored through the school. She’s also considering private tutoring.
“There are whole segments of our societies who do not have access to private tutoring — they can’t afford it,” said Siddiqui, chair of the Parent Involvement Committee for the Peel District School Board. “I do worry that we are going to be having a whole section of kids for whom this does impact their long-term outcomes.
“Kids are still struggling with school a lot. They’re back in school, but classroom sizes are larger than ever and there is a lot of catch-up.”
Hamilton mother Lindsay Croswell is waiting to see the report cards of daughters Amelia, 9, and Rozlyn, 7, for a deeper understanding of what they may have lost. Both are in French immersion, but neither Croswell nor her husband speaks French.
“That was the biggest stress that we had: trying to help them.”
And on days when Amelia had virtual dance lessons, after full days of virtual learning, “we saw some negative behaviour impacts … She was just so incredibly tired of doing things by screen.”
As a caregiver during an “incredibly stressful” time, Croswell said she couldn’t do things she normally does, such as play volleyball and baseball, which led to weight gain and a change in eating patterns.
Stress was exacerbated by the death of her father and grandfather. Neither died of COVID, but both were in intensive care units during the pandemic. “It just made it tenfold worse because you didn’t have the same supports,” she said.
Having schools reopen was critical to relieving some of the stress of the pandemic, she said.
“We haven’t fully recovered financially,” she said, adding her husband is a contractor who did not work for four months. “And from some of the trauma.”
Croswell is the only parent the Star spoke to who took part in the survey. As a public health nurse who’s an end user of a lot of research, she felt it was important to participate.
“It’s such a significant time in history that to contribute to a snapshot of that felt like it was the least that I could do.”
Article From: The Star
Author: Isabel TeotonioEducation Reporter