The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of millions of families all over the world. Creating unprecedented conditions that can affect a family’s mental well-being, the pandemic disrupted routines, altered family roles, caused employment instability, and precipitated social isolation.

Doha International Family Institute (DIFI), a member of Qatar Foundation, have studied the impact of COVID-19 on the mental well-being of families in Qatar. The findings were presented by DIFI Executive Director Dr Sharifa Al Emadi on the sidelines of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2021 (HLPF 2021) on 12 July 2021.

Titled Building Back Better after COVID-19 through Addressing Health Equity, Mental Health, and Well-being: Contributions of Psychological Science and Practice to Leave No One Behind, the event focused on global resilience and sustainable recovery from COVID-19 by addressing challenges and solutions to achieve physical and mental health equity.

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The event included remarks by ambassadors of member states, presentations by scientific experts, and talks from leaders of health and mental health programmes in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal and India.

Dr Al Emadi said that fostering understanding of how COVID-19 has affected the family’s mental well-being and learning from the outcomes of unprecedented conditions this crisis has brought, is critical to creating a better future for families.

As one of the scientific experts at the event, Dr Al Emadi presented the Impact of COVID-19 on Family Mental Health, highlighting the effects of COVID-19 on family cohesion, caregiving, work-family balance, and domestic violence. She also discussed the mental well-being support services families need during COVID-19.

The presentation was based on different research data, including two DIFI studies – Surviving a Crisis: Impact of Coronavirus on Family Cohesion in Qatar and Adolescents Well-being in Qatar.

Families and relationships during the pandemic

The studies showed that 64% of families experienced a positive impact from the pandemic in terms of family cohesion, as they became closer and more connected. In comparison, 15% of Qataris and non-Qataris surveyed for the study noted that the onset of COVID-19 negatively impacted their families and relationships, while 21% stated that their situation had not changed.

Almost half of the parents in the studies also experienced positive results from remote work in terms of parenting, explaining that it gave them more time to spend with family, take care of their children, communicate, and do various activities with them. However, 28% said remote work negatively affected their tasks as parents, as it put them – especially the mothers – under tremendous pressure in balancing work and family responsibilities.

The presentation cited several support systems and practices that can help families preserve mental well-being. Staying connected with others, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and creating a daily schedule can help improve family unity. Alleviating the stresses that come with the responsibility of giving care to a family member include speaking to mental health specialists through hotlines and joining support groups. Dr Al Emadi also stressed the importance of continuing flexible working arrangements after the pandemic for better family and societal cohesion.

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