Poorer parents were more likely to experience mental health difficulties than those who were better-off, a survey has found
“This lack of support for families falls at a critical stage in babies’ and young children’s development, threatening life chances and piling more and more pressure on families.” Jon Sparkes, chief executive, Unicef UK
Millions of parents are struggling with mental health problems, according to a new survey for the charity Unicef UK.
Sixty-one per cent of respondents said they had concerns about their mental health, with those on lower incomes most likely to be affected. Difficulties mentioned by the parents included feeling overwhelmed (49%), anxious (43%), unsupported (36%) and lonely (26%) all or a lot of the time in the past 12 months.
More than two-thirds (70%) of parents with babies and young children said it was getting harder every year to be a parent in Britain, while the same number felt that being a parent today was harder than it was for their parent’s generation.
The survey of 2,661 parents of children aged four and under was carried out by YouGov in July.
A large majority (78%) said that the rising cost of living was negatively impacting their family (an increase of 12 percentage points on last year’s survey), while 66% said they were worried about their child’s future life chances.
Half said that they could not afford to give their children the life they wanted to, while 61% said they had struggled with their mental health since becoming a parent.
Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Unicef UK, said: “This lack of support for families falls at a critical stage in babies’ and young children’s development, threatening life chances and piling more and more pressure on families.”
The rising cost of living (83%) was the most common reason parents felt it was harder to be a parent now. More than two-thirds (68%) said it was harder due to a lack of childcare, 64% felt there was less time to spend with children, and 41% said there were fewer local support services. Parents also said housing costs (78%) and the dangers of social media (75%) were making parenting harder for their generation.
Sparkes said that the findings “provide a stark snapshot into the reality for many families with babies and young children right now – worried for their children’s future, struggling to make ends meet and left feeling anxious, alone, and unsupported.”
He added: “It is vitally important that families can access basic services like maternity care, health visits, mental health support, affordable and high-quality childcare and support for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). These services, whilst essential for all, can provide a lifeline for families struggling financially and/or with their mental health.
“The fact that it’s the most disadvantaged families who are struggling more and who are least likely to have accessed support means we risk cementing inequalities in children’s lives before they’ve even picked up a pencil. The UK government’s Start for Life initiative seeks to improve support for babies and young children, but its funding does little to address the growing shortfalls in essential services. Urgent government action is needed to address the gaps to stop families slipping through the net and to safeguard our babies and children’s futures.”
The research also highlighted stark inequalities, with 94% of the poorest households reporting that the cost-of-living crisis had negatively impacted family life, compared with 78% of all parents with young children, and 85% reporting that they are worried about their child’s future life chances. Poorer parents are also more likely to be struggling with their mental health (74% compared with 61% of all parents with young children) and least likely to have received support for their mental health (58% compared with 42% of all income groups surveyed).
One parent surveyed said: “Previously people could survive on one household income, now we have two and it is barely enough.” Another commented: “There are less community support spaces, places like Sure Start centres are really missed.”
These findings paint a sobering picture of the stresses facing parents today, with well over half saying they experienced mental health problems. The cost-of-living crisis has had a particularly strong impact, along with problems such as housing costs and a lack of childcare. The fact that poorer parents are more likely to struggle with their mental health shows that mental illness is often grounded in social circumstance. While antidepressants and therapy can help many people, it’s important to tackle some of the factors that cause people to experience mental health problems.