Child, adolescent, and caregiver mental health difficulties and associated risk factors early in the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa

Jenny Bloom, Anusha Lachman, Ezethu Gaxo, Jace Pillay, Soraya Seedat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 in South Africa, many safety measures were implemented to protect the lives of the population. Ironically, these same safety measures have negatively impacted on the lives of children and their caregivers resulting in increased mental health problems. This study forms part of the multicountry Co-SPACE (COVID-19: Supporting Parents, Adolescents and Children during Epidemics) study that explores how families are coping during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what caregivers can do to help support their children’s mental health. This paper aims to gain a better understanding of the mental health status of families specifically in South Africa in the early onset of the pandemic during restrictive lockdown measures, and identify certain risk factors that might contribute towards deteriorating mental health. Two hundred and fifty-four South African parents and carers of children and adolescents completed an online survey about their child’s mental health as well as their own mental health during and post- hard lockdown in South Africa. Data collection took place over the period of the first and second waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa. Results showed that children experienced significantly higher mental health problems than adolescents (p = 0.016). Younger children were particularly negatively affected by lockdown and had more mental health problems than adolescents (p = 0.023); including emotional problems (p = 0.017), misconduct (p = 0.030), and hyperactivity (p = 0.001). Additionally, the presence of special educational needs/neurodevelopmental disorders (SEN/ND) was associated with more mental health problems (p = 0.001). Surprisingly, single parent households, which is another well-known risk factor showed no differences in mental health problems compared to nuclear families. There was also a reciprocal relationship between parental/carer mental health and child/adolescent mental health, with higher level of endorsement of mental health problems in children by parents/caregivers who themselves associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress (all p’s < 0.001). These results highlight the dramatic impact that COVID-19 had on children, adolescents and parents in South Africa early in the pandemic, and emphasises the need for specific support structures to be implemented within the SEN/ND community, as well as for younger children and single parent households.

Original languageEnglish
Article number65
JournalChild and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022


  • Adolescent
  • COVID-19
  • Child
  • Depression Anxiety Stress Scale
  • Mental health
  • Pandemic
  • Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire
  • Youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental Health


Dive into the research topics of 'Child, adolescent, and caregiver mental health difficulties and associated risk factors early in the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this