Homeschooling burnout and the impact on parent's mental health
The global pandemic has impacted deeply upon us all in many ways, and parents are no exception. The financial worries and health concerns, working from home with no childcare and the added pressure of emergency pandemic homeschooling has pushed many parents to breaking point.
My friend Sarah Vaughan is the founder of The Do Try This at Home School and kid’s charity The Play Well Trust. She supported children and families throughout the whole pandemic, providing free, creative, learning resources and activities that focus on families' mental health and well-being.
Over this past year, I have spoken to many parents who are struggling with their mental health and well-being. It has worsened over time and, compounded by the pressures placed upon them to not only survive a pandemic, keep the home running, pay the bills and keep the children safe and well, but also to become full-time teachers in an emergency pandemic homeschooling operation.
As a mother of three, and a qualified teacher, Sarah was also finding these expectations unmanageable. She took it upon herself to investigate.
Together with Sarah, we developed a short questionnaire for parents. The survey’s purpose was to understand the level of stress they might be experiencing during the forced homeschooling, issues parents might have with their mental health and if they know where to get the support. The goal was to obtain realtime data and raise awareness about parental mental health issues, and people were very willing to contribute.
Organic survey distribution
Initially, we started distributing the survey amongst our personal and professional networks. The feedback was incredible, with over 200 responses in hours. The results were startling, and we decided to back up the results with a national UK survey to share representative figures in the press and take them to local MPs and Parliament.
National representative survey
On top of the 240 parents interviewed via our personal and professional connections, we also surveyed 300 mums and dads across Britain with children in primary and secondary school education. National representative quotas of age, gender and region of the UK were applied to get statistically valid data.
The stark reality
In total, 81% of parents stated that they were experiencing at least one mental health issue such as anxiety, depression, high levels of stress and broken sleep, and more severe ones like panic attacks.
65% of parents reported that their mental health had slightly or significantly worsened during lockdowns.
50% of parents felt overwhelmed by the level of support needed to give their children homeschooling.
43% stated that they could hardly cope with the level of support their children needed whilst learning online.
61% of parents do believe that online learning is not ideal for their children.
It’s been so stressful. I don’t have enough hours in the day with working at the same time.
I don’t feel educated enough myself, so I have to learn to be able to teach my child. I feel I don’t want to put pressure on the teacher as she seems overwhelmed too.
Let's look at those figures in more detail. Based on the National Survey, we can see that most parents (about 90%) work and over 60% of them work full time. 65% have more than one child, and 30% have three and more children. 22% have at least one child with special educational needs. Our survey also represented more primary school children than secondary school (61% vs 53%).
Parents of children with Special Educational Needs reported that they were struggling to cope with the level of support needed for homeschooling. Also, parents with children in Primary School felt a higher level of overwhelm.
When we look at all those percentages amongst the professional network we interviewed, they are even more dramatic. A significantly high number of parents found it 'hard to cope' and stated mental health complaints.
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Do UK parents feel supported?
When asked about whether they felt that they had sufficient support for mental health and where to access it, responses varied. Many people sought help within their family, from their GP or through private therapy, but others felt that they had no support and no way of accessing it, partly due to lack of time alone and lack of childcare.
I don’t feel supported. I know there are resources I could access, but never having time to myself means I never have time to look at them.
For critical workers, the situation can be more shocking.
Homeschooling has been particularly hard as I work early morning and night shift (full time). My wife also works full time, 8 in the morning to 6 in the evening. With the levels of work, it makes homeschooling very hard as there is little to no support. Also, both of us are keys workers and sending our children to school not to be taught is ridiculous as other children will be at home getting taught by parents on furlough or parents not working. We then have to start when they come home from school, so it’s a really silly idea.
Here are more comments we obtained from the professional and social networks:
"From an employee perspective, no, I don’t feel supported by my employer. It took it to have a mini-breakdown on the phone to my boss for them to recognise what I’m going through. I have spoken with the doctors and have taken up more exercise, but this is all self-help."
I’m not confident that there is sufficient mental health support provided by the NHS. This opinion is based on somebody close to me requiring support in the last few years and really struggling to get it. I would assume this has become worse as a result of the recent additional strain on the NHS due to Covid.
Some parents, especially amongst professional networks, restrain themselves from reaching out for support 'as we are all in the same boat'.
Not supported, but I do know where to go. However, I feel like I can manage myself and do not want to add to the NHS burden. I also appreciate I am not working through choice and I am financially supported by my husband. It feels if you aren’t suffering the big things, don’t complain. Instead, we get outside. I worry for my smallest as she has only known lockdown and has definitely had more tv due to homeschooling and me getting other stuff done with my husband working an increase of 30% more hours.
I know where to access support; however, I’m aware my issues are circumstance based and wouldn’t want to utilise services when others are more in need.
I know how to deal with my issues, but this is not something I can deal with as my son needs to be at school. I have no choice, so have to watch my mental health and physical health issues get worse and his. I have a chronic health condition and feel very unsupported by school for this.
No, I feel very alone I can speak to one friend about it, which helps. The college are no help at all and even though my daughter has an EHCP, it seems that it doesn’t apply to online learning! So once again, the education system has failed her and left me to deal with her learning, her emotional and mental development and support too. All that, after 18 years of trying to access the educational system has left us both drained and totally depressed with a huge lack of self esteem It is time the system WOKE UP and actually start to understand what special needs means and I suggest the ASK those who struggle with it, and their parents/family, not some Uni professor who hasn’t experienced it!
Sometimes it is a disbelief that any sufficient help will be provided. I know where to go. But what can they do? I won’t take antidepressants because I should be fine once lock down is done I should be fine again.
Not all families have found lockdown and homeschooling that difficult. The survey also found that 13% of parents felt that their mental health had slightly or significantly improved. Some families have even thrived during pandemic homeschooling and commented:
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed home education during the pandemic. I feel more connected to my children and I feel as if I can tailor their educational needs to their learning style.
Click the buttons below to see the National Representative survey dashboard and the survey with professionals:
So what's next?
One conclusion that we can draw from this data is that parents are going to need support for mental health and well-being going forward. Although schools re-open on March 8th, this will not 'cure' the deep emotional damage the past year caused. We have been forced to confront suppressed emotions and deal with intense stress levels for a long time. We will all need to take some time to process what has happened, and so will our children.
As a psychologist and sociologist and being a mum myself, I find those figures shocking. Think about it: 6 out of 10 adults in this country are parents of at least one school-aged child. And 80% of those parents have experienced some mental health issues recently. That means that we've got at least 50% of the total adult population between 25 to 55 y.o. that somehow are psychologically unstable and need help and support. So the nation's mental health should be an absolute priority for our health system and the government.
One can say — what can the government do — is it possible to do something about this massive issue? We believe that yes, it is possible. Parents' mental health (and children's) should be reinforced alongside the lockdown roadmap. That program should be launched to raise awareness about mental health issues and normalise them. Make people aware of available resources and put this support in place. Hotlines and volunteers via communities and charities could be organised in unison. Only by doing so, this country can come back to 'normal'.
These figures are public. Please, share, use them with reference to www.fastuna.com and this article.
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