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Stress Rises for More Than Half of Chicago Parents During Pandemic

June 23, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has produced unprecedented challenges for families, resulting in markedly increased levels of stress for Chicago parents, according to the latest study by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

The latest survey from the hospital’s Voices of Child Health in Chicago found:

  • Fifty-one (51) percent of parents are experiencing increased stress since the start of the pandemic.
  • Parents whose child has worsening mental health symptoms during the pandemic are more likely to experience increased stress themselves.
  • Parents have substantial worry that new variants of the virus will emerge and negatively impact their families.

Parents have faced a slew of challenges during the pandemic including unemployment, remote learning for their children’s school, inadequate and expensive food supplies, lack of in-school socialization, increased responsibilities at home and new concerns about their family’s health. Correspondingly, the majority of respondents in this latest citywide survey indicated substantially rising stress levels (51 percent) since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 37 percent of parents said their stress levels remained the same and 12 percent said their stress levels decreased.

Mothers reported heightened levels of stress compared with fathers: 56 percent of mothers said their stress had increased since the start of the pandemic, compared to 43 percent of fathers. The survey also revealed that parents in Chicago with lower household incomes, lower educational levels, and who are Black or Latinx were most likely to report increased levels of stress. This finding aligns with the fact that these groups have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“With over half of Chicago parents in our survey reporting increased stress since the start of the pandemic, it is crucial that we work together as a community to support parents and families and address their mental health and well-being,” say Marie Heffernan, PhD, Assistant Professor at Lurie Children’s and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who directs the Voices of Child Health in Chicago survey.   

As reported by the U.S. Surgeon General, the pandemic’s impact on young people has created a pediatric mental health crisis. This Chicago survey illustrates how the crisis is also taking a tremendous toll on parents. Parents who had at least one child showing symptoms of behavioral and emotional difficulties – such as anxiety, trouble focusing or depression – were significantly more likely to report that their own stress had also increased (59 percent), compared with parents who did not have a child showing such symptoms.

Living through uncertainties caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, parents in the survey showed significant worry about how the pandemic will play out. Sixty-five (65) percent indicated that they were worried a new variant will make the pandemic worse in Chicago and the U.S., 63 percent said they were very concerned their children would contract the virus, 61 percent were stressed that other family members or friends would get sick from a new variant, and 52 percent worried that their child might have to return to remote learning.

This report is based on data from the Voices of Child Health in Chicago Parent Panel Survey. The survey is administered to a sample of Chicago parents by Lurie Children’s and NORC at the University of Chicago via internet and telephone. The survey is administered to Chicago parents three times each year. The data in this report was collected from October through November 2021. The sample consisted of 1,142 Chicago parents, step-parents, or guardians who had at least one child under 18 years of age in the household (referred to as “parents” in this report). Parents participated from all 77 community areas in Chicago. For more information about the VOCHIC Parent Panel Survey, visit luriechildrens.org/ParentPanel and our page on Open Science Framework at https://osf.io/cjz82/.

Population-focused child health research at Lurie Children’s is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Outcomes, Research, and Evaluation Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in U.S. News & World Report and is the pediatric training affiliate for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 223,000 children from all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, and 37 countries.