A Pandemic, Parent Mental Health, and Psychosocial Risk in Young Children: Findings from a National Sample in Peru during COVID-19

Talia Benheim, BA

Massachusetts General Hospital – Research Assistant

Scientific Abstract

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic and its consequent lockdowns have disrupted the lives of children and families around the globe. In Peru, recent studies have shown a high prevalence of depression and other mental health problems in adults, adolescents, and school-aged children during the pandemic. Given that adverse events in young children under age 5 can have significant long-term consequences, the current study examined rates of psychosocial risk in preschool-aged Peruvian children during the partial national lockdown that took place in the fall of 2020.

Methods: Between October 23rd-November 24th, 2020, an opt-in online questionnaire was distributed to caregivers in Peru. Of those who completed the questionnaire, a subsample of 3,217 caregivers had children between the ages of 1.0-4.9. These parents reported on a number of sociodemographic and pandemic-linked variables and completed several mental health screening measures. The Preschool Pediatric Symptom Checklist (PPSC) assessed children’s psychosocial functioning. Caregiver depression and resilience were assessed with the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and Brief Resilience Scale (BRS-6), respectively. Adjusted prevalence ratios were estimated to assess which variables exacerbated or mitigated the mental health impact of the pandemic.

Results: 36.4% of the children were identified as being at overall risk on the PPSC. Caregiver depression and resilience were stronger predictors of child psychosocial problems than sociodemographic and pandemic-linked risk factors. After controlling for sociodemographic and pandemic-linked characteristics, having a caregiver with depression risk doubled the likelihood of child psychosocial risk, whereas having a caregiver with high resilience reduced the likelihood of risk by nearly half.

Conclusions: These results fit with a large body of literature documenting the connections between child and parent mental health, particularly in young children, and suggest that parent resilience can protect against the negative effects of parent depression. Interventions aimed at supporting caregiver mental health and resilience could have measurable impacts on young children’s psychosocial wellbeing during both the current pandemic and other crises.

Live Zoom Session – March 9th

research Areas


Talia S. Benheim*, BA, July Caballero*, MD, MSc, Daniel A. Antiporta, PhD, Yuri Cutipé, MD, Rocío Vargas-Machuca, BS, MSEpid(c), Carlos Rojas, BS, MS(c), Carla Cortez, MD, Johan M. Vega-Dienstmaier, MD, MSc, Anamika Dutta, BA, Juliana M. Holcomb, BA, Felipe Peña, BA, Michael Jellinek, MD, J. Michael Murphy, EdD

Principal Investigator

 J. Michael Murphy, EdD