Recession damages mental health of families, study shows

Analysis says falling incomes and unemployment put strain on relationships

Prof Richard Layte (r), author of a new report on childhood in Ireland. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Prof Richard Layte (r), author of a new report on childhood in Ireland. File photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times


The financial strain on families as a result of the recession has “hugely damaged” many parents’ and children’s mental health, a new study shows.

The findings are based on analysis of the Growing Up in Ireland study, which tracked the lives of almost 20,000 children between 2008 and 2011.

The latest analysis of the study shows that falling incomes and unemployment have placed a heavy strain on family relationships.

Among families under economic pressure, the risk of mothers showing clinical levels of depression jumped by 84 per cent compared with families unaffected by the downturn.

The equivalent increased risk for fathers was 61 per cent.

Parents experiencing financial distress reported more arguments and were more likely to report that they were unhappy with their relationship.

The study also provides stark evidence of how this parental stress had a much wider impact on children’s wellbeing.

Parents under stress were found to use harsher parenting styles with less warmth, the study found.

This change was true for parents across the levels of education and social class.

These worsened relationships between parents and children were linked to higher anxiety and worse conduct, as well as lower child happiness.

This, in turn, led to deterioration in conduct among children at home and poorer test results at school.

Unhappy children

Richard LayteTrinity College Dublin

“Anxious, unhappy children do worse in school, often with long-term consequences for both wealth and health,” said Prof Layte.

“By investing in children and young people, we will be developing healthier, happier and more productive adults for all our tomorrows - and saving money in the process.”

The results also show the extent to which personal income fell during the recession.

Cutting back on basics

Almost 30 per cent of mothers reported cutting back on basics, while 8 per cent said they fell behind with their rent or mortgage.

Overall, household income fell by 16 per cent between 2008 and 2011 for families who participated in the study.

Unemployment among fathers rose from 6 per cent to almost 14 per cent.

The report also found a number of key gender differences.

For example, the effect of economic strain on a relationship was perceived to be higher among mothers.

It also recorded a relatively low level of separation or divorce among parents - at 2 per cent of parents - but Prof Layte said it was too early to draw any definitive conclusions from this.