US Pharm. 2021;46(5):1.

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic more than a year ago, many families were suddenly isolated together at home. A year later, new research has linked this period with a variety of large, detrimental effects on well-being and functioning.

The study by Penn State researchers found that in the first months of the pandemic, parents reported that their children were experiencing much higher levels of “internalizing” problems such as depression and anxiety, and “externalizing” problems such as disruptive and aggressive behavior, than before the pandemic. Parents also reported that they themselves were experiencing much higher levels of depression and lower levels of coparenting quality with their partners.

Mark Feinberg, research professor of health and human development, Penn State, said the results published in Family Process give insight into how devastating periods of family and social stress can be for parents and children and how important a good coparenting relationship can be for family well-being.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Dr. Feinberg said, it led to not only financial stress within families but also problems related to being isolated together, issues managing work and childcare, and general fear related to the sudden health threat that was poorly understood.

For the study, the researchers used data from 129 families, which included 122 mothers and 84 fathers, with an average of 2.3 children per family. The researchers found that parents were 2.4 times more likely to report “clinically significant” high levels of depression after the pandemic hit than before. They were also 2.5 times and 4 times more likely to report externalizing and internalizing problems, respectively, in their children at levels high enough that professional help might be needed.

“The size of these changes are considered very large in our field and are rarely seen,” she said. “We saw not just overall shifts, but greater numbers of parents and children who were in the clinical range for depression and behavior problems, which means they were likely struggling with a diagnosable disorder and would benefit from treatment.”

Dr. Feinberg put the size of the declines in parent and child well-being in perspective by pointing out that the increase in parents’ levels of depressive symptoms in the first months of the pandemic was about twice as large as the average benefit of antidepressants.

Several articles in this Mental Health focus issue examine the effect of COVID-19 on psychogical functioning, including the continuing education lesson, “Addressing Mental and Physical and Health in Vulnerable Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic” on page 47. Also, an article titled “Challenges in Community Pharmacy During COVID-19: The Perfect Storm for Personnel Burnout” (page 28) considers the impact of the pandemic on the mental state of pharmacists in the community setting.

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