This Child, Youth & Family Mental Health Impact Grant is co-funded through a partnership between Mental Health Research Canada, Michael Smith Health Research BC, and the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development.
While COVID-19 has affected the mental health of all Canadians, those with complex family needs have struggled even more. The strain is especially great on parents and caregivers of children and youth with support needs experiencing (or at risk of) developmental delay or disability.
Research studies about the impact of the pandemic on parental mental health tend to view parents of children with support needs as a homogenous group, or they tend to explore separate diagnostic categories (such as Autism Spectrum Disorder and medical complexity).
Lead investigators Dr. Jennifer Baumbusch and Angela Clancy will not replicate existing studies but will extend what is currently known, particularly in the context of British Columbia.
The investigators and their team will compare mental health impacts with a larger pan-Canadian sample. They will also compare mental health impacts within the sample of parents of children with support needs based on diagnostic categories, individual factors of parent and child (such as gender, age, race, ethnicity, education, family structure and household income), and community factors (such as geographic location and size of community) — and compare between these categories.
The goal is to identify specific strengths and vulnerabilities of different sub-groups that can be used to customize supports.
The BC research team will also explore existing knowledge about programs (such as peer-to-peer and one-on-one counselling) and promising practices (such as virtual/tele-health and enhanced respite) that help mitigate mental health impacts and foster family resilience.
Lead investigators Dr. Jennifer Baumbusch and Angela Clancy, together with Chelsea Jokisch, a patient with lived experience, share their key discoveries and insights so far, in this webinar hosted by Mental Health Research Canada.
In June 2022, 236 parents and caregivers of children with support needs living in British Columbia completed a survey exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their mental health. Almost 60% of respondents felt that their mental health was worse than before the pandemic. More than 50% indicated that the main emotion they felt over the previous two weeks was anxiety, followed by stressed, and lonely or isolated. The main source of stress over the previous two weeks was coping with uncertainty/not knowing what would happen. The top rated coping strategy was enjoying outdoor activities, including going for a walk or exercising outside.
We were able to bring together a new community to work on this project, which included people with lived experience, leaders from non-profit organizations, clinicians, and researchers. Through regular dialogue and meetings, we collaborated on all aspects of the research process and are well positioned to continue to work together on future research priorities.
As the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development was a partner on this project, we have shared the results and discussed recommendations with them. Our team members who are clinicians and work in non-profit organizations are able to use the results in their practices and programs.
We plan to compare our results with a sample of adults who are not parents/caregivers of children with support needs in order to better ascertain the impacts on this group.