Hamilton researchers say educators, parents need more mental health supports during COVID pandemic

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Published May 4, 2022 at 11:28 am

Researchers at Hamilton's McMaster University studied how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted adults – more specifically, educators and parents.

“Won’t somebody please think of the children?!” was famously said by a sobbing Helen Lovejoy in a 1996 episode of the Simpsons. In 2022, researchers continue to monitor the effects that school closures have had on children and teens during the COVID-19 pandemic. But a team at McMaster University in Hamilton is shedding more light on how the events over the last few years have impacted adults – more specifically, educators and parents.

Natalie Spadafora, a post-doctoral fellow at McMaster’s Offord Centre for Child Studies and Magdalena Janus, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural neuroscience at McMaster, found that school closures and a shift to remote learning significantly impacted the mental health of educators and parents.

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Their research found that women and educators who were also parents were especially impacted. Narrowing it down further, kindergarten teachers and early childhood educators have been the most affected. They are responsible for implementing Ontario’s full-day learning curriculum.

Hamilton researchers say educators, parents need more mental health supports during COVID pandemic

“Kindergarten in Ontario focuses on hands-on, play-based and interactive learning — activities that are nearly impossible to re-create in an online environment,” Spadafora and Janus wrote for The Conversation.

Researchers surveyed nearly 2,000 kindergarten teachers and early childhood educators representing almost all of Ontario’s school boards in the spring of 2020 when schools first shut down.

“We wanted to know if educators who had to balance teaching from home with caregiving responsibilities for family members reported poorer mental health than their colleagues who did not,” Spadafora and Janus wrote. “The survey data we gleaned strongly suggested they did.”

Hamilton researchers say educators, parents need more mental health supports during COVID pandemic

Research shows that those who were primarily responsible for the care or learning of their own children self-reported poorer mental health than those who did not have these responsibilities or those who could share them.

“Our study suggests caring for children in the pandemic may have only been positive for parents if the responsibilities are shared,” according to researchers. “Those who could share their responsibilities for childcare or learning fared better in terms of depression and anxiety than those who did not have any such responsibilities.”

According to census data, 84 per cent of elementary school and kindergarten teachers in Canada are women, deducing that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a larger impact on working women with children than on men.

Educators who reported being responsible for the care of an older adult also had higher depression and anxiety levels compared to those who did not have this responsibility.

Hamilton researchers say educators, parents need more mental health supports during COVID pandemic

“These findings stress the importance of providing adequate mental health supports for teachers and early childhood educators to ensure they can in turn provide optimal support to our youngest learners,” researchers wrote.

“Each of us has more than one role in life, and all of them have been impacted in one way or another.”

Researchers say the results of their study highlight the need to think about the sum of our individual roles and responsibilities to better understand the full impact of the pandemic.

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