The RCH National Child Health Poll has released research examining the changes in mental health and wellbeing for Victorian parents and children throughout the pandemic.
Conducted in December 2021, a month after stay-at-home directions were lifted and many Victorian children returned to onsite learning, the report found the pandemic had significant negative mental health impacts.
Compared to before the pandemic, overall mental health was more of a problem for 41 per cent of children, anxiety more of a problem for 36 per cent, and connections and relationships more of a problem for 43 per cent of children. For parents, 70 per cent said the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health.
For half of Australian children, remote learning had a negative impact on mental health, friendships and connectedness, and on social skills. During the pandemic, there was a rise in negative lifestyle factors for many children, such as excessive screen time, poor diet and inadequate sleep and exercise. Once face-to-face learning returned, 49 per cent of children experienced difficulty adjusting to school onsite and 52 per cent needed extra help with learning.
Director of the RCH National Child Health Poll, paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes, said these findings highlight the importance of attending school, not only for academic learning, but for the social and emotional wellbeing of children and their parents.
“The past couple of years have brought many new challenges for children and families. Our findings show that many families experienced negative mental health impacts and anxiety became more common for children during the pandemic. This highlights the importance of all those things that were put on hold, such as attending school and regular lifestyle routines including physical activity, good diet and sleep.”
The report also found that there was a resulting demand for professional mental health services, with over a quarter of children and a third of parents saying they needed professional mental health care since the onset of the pandemic.
The findings are suggestive of early recovery: parents reported almost half of children (47 per cent) showed improvement in their mental health when lockdown lifted.
“Our opportunity and challenge now is how we support parents and children in their path to recovery. We are currently working with the support of the Victorian Government Department of Health on further research, as well as resources to help families,” said Dr Rhodes.
This survey is part of a series looking at the impact of the pandemic over time, and a new report that includes more recent experiences is in development.
Read the full report on the poll website.