The COVID-19 Pandemic Adjustment Survey (CPAS), led by Associate Professor Dr Elizabeth Westrupp,  followed more than 2000 Australian parents of children 0-18 years 14 times over 14 months, from April 2020 to May 2021.

Findings report on a rare natural experiment comparing the 2020 Victorian COVID-19 outbreak and lockdowns, showing a large peak in mental health symptoms among Victorian parents and children, compared to the rest of Australia.  

The COVID-19 Pandemic Adjustment Survey found parent and child mental health symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress followed the COVID-19 infection rate, with a nation-wide peak in symptoms during the first national lockdown in April-May 2020 and a second much larger peak in symptoms during Victoria’s second wave lockdown in July-October 2020.  

Dr Westrupp said the data show the considerable impact of the pandemic. “Victoria experienced one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world. This allowed us to compare what was happening in Victoria with other parts of Australia, who were not affected (or much less affected) by COVID.”  

The COVID-19 Pandemic Adjustment Survey examined how COVID-19 stressors, such as lockdowns, social distancing, environmental impacts (such as loss/reduction in employment, and illness) and psychological impacts (worry and concern about COVID-19) impacted parent and child functioning, including mental health, substance use, and parenting. 

Findings from published CPAS papers show that the effects of COVID-19 were wide-ranging and long-lasting. Major findings include: 

  • High levels of loneliness in parents and children, pre-existing mental health problems, and high couple conflict, predicted worse mental health trajectories.  
  • Mothers were particularly at risk for deterioration in mental health.  
  • Financial strains (such as low income, food shortages, and job losses) and poor quality housing placed families at increased risk.  
  • Parents reporting stress and worry about the pandemic increased mental health risks. 

Key findings from published/accepted papers include: 

  •  The first Australian lockdown in April 2020 presented an exacerbation of previous mental health problems or the presentation of new mental health problems. Messages around loss and challenge were common. Many families indicated that the restrictions had stressed their relationships. Parents reported how being “stuck” or “trapped” at home resulted in their family “losing” or “missing out” on their usual activities, events, and coping strategies. However, there were also many examples of parents finding benefit, gratitude or ways to carry on despite the difficulties.
  •   We compared parent and child mental health, parent substance use, couple conflict, parenting practices and family functioning during the first national lockdown in Australia to pre-pandemic data. Parents reported higher mental health symptoms, higher irritability, lower positive family expressiveness and higher alcohol consumption compared to pre-pandemic times. We also found parents and children with pre-existing mental health conditions experienced elevated difficulties during the pandemic across most domains. We found substantially lower subjective wellbeing compared to pre-pandemic. Groups at highest risk were parents with own or child mental health risk; those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage; or parents with COVID-19 illness, financial or job insecurity.
  • Parents supportive of vaccinations were more likely to trust doctors, whereas those who were hesitant were concerned about testing and side effects, and long-term outcomes. Similar themes emerged for children; parents unsure/declining tended to have lower trust in doctors.
  • Children in the COVID-19 Pandemic Adjustment Study (CPAS) had more sleep problems and more weekend screen time, while more parents had poor sleep quality, despite increased weekly physical activity. Children’s sleep problems were associated with increased depression, anxiety and irritability symptoms, after accounting for physical activity and screen time. Poorer parent sleep quality and lower levels of physical activity were associated with poorer mental health across all indicators.
  • After examining trajectories and predictors of hope during an extended lockdown in 2020 we found three profiles of hope corresponding to low, moderate and high levels of hope. Mean levels of hope did not vary substantially within any profile, suggesting that hope is relatively robust over time. We found that experiencing less financial stress and less health risk to be the strongest predictors of higher hope, implying that structural factors that facilitate coping can contribute to the maintenance of hope. 
  • We explored the association between COVID-19 pandemic-related product shortages and symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression in Australian families and found 69% of the respondents reported being impacted by one or more shortages. Product shortages correlated significantly with higher combined and individual scores for anxiety, depression, stress.