3. Overall wellbeing and resilience
This chapter considers participants' wellbeing and resilience since the pandemic began, in order to establish the general context and wider household circumstances within which participants received any COVID-related support.
- The pandemic and associated lockdowns typically generated high levels of stress and anxiety about health, including keeping safe, as well as children's general wellbeing and education.
- When one or more family member had particular needs, such as being disabled, or having a neurodevelopmental condition or a health condition which placed them in the official highest risk group, there were often additional pressures.
- Going through major life events during the pandemic, especially during periods of lockdown, was made more challenging by the inability of services to respond in the way that might have been expected pre-pandemic.
- In terms of overall resilience and wellbeing, when the support available was easy to access and/or was sensitive to the particular needs of the participant's family, it appeared to be at its most effective.
- The extraordinary resolve and resilience of those who took part in this study was striking. While the pandemic certainly represented a new type of challenge, peoples' determination to get their family through as best they could shone through.
COVID-related changes and challenges
Participants' experiences were as varied as their personal circumstances, although there were some frequently raised themes, as set out below.
Adjusting to the realities of life in a pandemic
The first lockdown: The first lockdown from March to June 2020 was generally described as the most difficult time. Participants spoke about the shock of the pandemic and feeling anxious about the future. The upheaval to participants' day-to-day lives resulting from the 'stay at home' rule also created specific anxieties around health, caring for family and friends and educating their children. This applied almost irrespective of household characteristics and income levels.
On the other hand, the first lockdown had made life easier or more enjoyable for some. This was associated with a more relaxed routine, the chance to enjoy a slower pace of life and spend more quality time with family members. These benefits were most likely to have been raised by participants from households where someone worked and was either furloughed or started working from home. These participants tended to be in the moderate financial hardship group at the start of the pandemic and to have remained in that income group throughout.
... we've spent time that otherwise we wouldn't have spent together, with being at work or the children being at school, with my younger children they've really bonded better during lockdown.
Couple with three children.
The long haul: Some reflected on the sheer length of time over which the pandemic had continued and the emotional long-haul that has come with it. There were references to 'weariness', 'exhaustion', 'numbness' and 'feeling battered'.
I think it was to do with, you felt like it was never going to end ... whereas I think first time, it felt like, this isn't going to last so long, you know, you still had a sense that it was going to get sorted quite quickly.
Couple with two children.
The second lockdown was particularly difficult for some. This was linked primarily to the fact that it occurred over the winter months and in particular to the restrictions in place over the festive period. There were also reports that children who had coped reasonably well with home schooling during the first lockdown were disengaged and resistant during the second lockdown.
Stress, anxiety and isolation
Participants spoke of trying to remain positive but often acknowledged that they, or other family members, had really struggled at times. Most participants spoke of experiencing periods of significant stress or anxiety at some point.
These feelings were experienced by participants in a broad range of circumstances, locations and by single people and couples without children, parents and children alike. Based on the participants for this study, parents with a disabled child, lone parents, young mothers, and parents with younger children may have found the pandemic especially stressful. Experiencing serious, and especially severe financial hardship, also appeared to be a factor; this was about cumulative pressure and having money worries while also dealing with the additional anxieties stemming from the pandemic.
Every day from morning to night, I never slept for days. I was afraid ... how am I going to cope with this, how am I going to do that? Your mind is on overdrive, and that's where the mental health comes in.
Single lone parent with one young child.
Mainly rural area.
A cause of much concern for some parents was the toll the pandemic has had on the wellbeing and mental health of their children. This applied particularly, but not exclusively, to teenagers.
Social isolation was viewed as the single biggest factor contributing to deteriorating mental health and general wellbeing. This was linked to children being separated from friends and other family members and adults losing much of their informal day-to-day support from former partners, family and friends on which they usually relied.
The kids used to go to their dad's every other weekend, and they went on Thursday for tea. Because of COVID they couldn't go there as he was still working. That was really hard. I just didn't get a break at all, and I was dealing with really challenging behaviour. I was really anxious and stressed.
Lone parent, two children.
Having particular needs, including being in the highest risk group
When one or more family members had particular needs, such as being disabled, or having a neurodevelopmental condition or a health condition which placed them in the official highest risk group, there were often additional pressures.
In some cases, this was closely associated with the practical challenges of trying to comply with the advice given to those in the highest risk group. Coping with the additional pressure of needing to keep a vulnerable family member safe fed into the high levels of anxiety many participants experienced. This included for children and teenagers.
My son found it all very difficult. He's autistic and the messages just didn't always make sense to him ... because if you tell him something's not safe, then it's not safe. If one day you just say 'that's OK after all' as far as he's concerned it's not.
Couple with four children.
Remote rural area.
Major life changes during a pandemic
The pandemic was particularly difficult for those who experienced a significant life event or major change in circumstances just prior to, or during this period, especially if this occurred during lockdown periods. Examples included:
- Giving birth
- The death of a partner or close family member
- The onset of a serious or life-threatening illness for them or a family member
- Relationship breakdown
- Experiencing domestic abuse and/or homelessness
- Loss of employment.
Participants who had experienced these major events reflected on how some services had been delivered and how this had affected them. Difficulties getting access to services, lack of face-to-face communication and concerns around the quality of the service were mentioned.
Although the need for services to focus on dealing with the impact of COVID was understood, there was a clear sense of frustration that health and other services had not provided the standard of service or level of support they needed or could have expected at other times.
Mitigating or supportive factors
Participants' anxieties tended to centre on practical issues such as money worries, the difficulties of juggling work and childcare, and keeping vulnerable relatives safe. Many of the specific supports that helped families experiencing financial hardship are covered in further detail in later chapters. In terms of overall resilience and wellbeing, when the support available was easy to access and/or was sensitive to the particular needs of the participant's family, it appeared to be at its most effective.
Overall, however, it was the extraordinary resolve and resilience of those who took part in this study that was most striking, with many already experienced in dealing with much and coping with little.
I've been getting on with it for years ... so I just carried on getting on with it, you just had to get your head down really ... no choice. I was skint before COVID, I was skint during COVID and I'm still skint ...
Lone parent with one child.
While the pandemic certainly represented a new type of challenge, peoples' determination to get their family through as best they could shone through.
There is a problem
Thanks for your feedback