Research has shown that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected women more than men, both as frontline workers and at home, and one of the areas in which women have been worse impacted has been with regards to their Mental Health.
The ongoing pandemic can be looked at as a double edge sword in that that it as not only taken a toll on Physical Health but also Mental Health. The virus has affected people around in the world in so many ways. Things like physical distancing, self-isolation, fear, uncertainty, and a prolonged period of working from home led to a significant number of people grappling with Mental Health distress. This impact on Mental Health in itself has become a silent pandemic that continues to rage on, but is also one that is largely ignored as the physical effects of the Covid-19 gains precedence over everything else. The lockdowns imposed by the government in different countries has taken a toll on people’s mental health and mainly for women. Some studies show that the pre-existing gender gap in mental health, with women worse affected than men, has broadened critically during a pandemic. While the Covid-19 also further deepened pre-existing inequalities and exposed gaps in our systems, the multi-layered effects of Covid-19 have been exacerbated for women and girls. This piece will focus at looking at some of the ways women’s Mental Health has been impacted by the pandemic.
You may wonder, why must we especially focus on women’s Mental Health during this global pandemic? Gender is said to be a crucial determinant of Mental Health and Mental Illness according to the World Health Organisation. They advocated that “gender determines the differential power and control men and women have over the socioeconomic determinants of their mental health and lives”. Following the Covid-19 outbreak, there have been calls for having more ‘gender-sensitive’ deployments of healthcare, especially when it comes to Mental Health. Due to various social, cultural and economic factors, women are facing a sharp increase in caregiving responsibilities, with even less freedom, space, or economic security through the pandemic and this has been an influence on their Mental Health.
As more research into the emotional and Mental Health impact of COVID-19 becomes available, evidence is suggesting that the stress from the pandemic is being felt more acutely and having a greater impact on women than on men. According to one research, 27% women reported facing increases in challenges in relation to their Mental Health as opposed to 10% men during the ongoing pandemic. Women mentioned that their domestic chores and responsibilities had increased exponentially and that this had led to stress, worries about food, work and access to quality health care. Another study by Total Brain showed that 83% of women as compared to 36% of men were reporting significant increase in depression while research by Kaiser showed that 53% of women participants reported a significant negative impact on their Mental Health as opposed to only 37% of men.
Psychological abuse is often a precursor to physical and sexual violence in relationships. The pandemic sadly has presented a scenario of increased cases of family abuse, intimate partner violence, and greater complication in reporting and seeking help. More and more individuals now find themselves locked in these households through the lockdown with diminished community support, disconnection from social networks and inability to seek temporary refuge or have access to ‘private spaces’. The lockdown have left several women trapped in abusive or dysfunctional households. Many countries have reported significant increases in the cases of domestic violence cases. Asking for more support with domestic responsibilities can also trigger domestic violence against women, especially during Covid-19 with the imposed lockdowns. For many, home is unfortunately not always a safe space. Such a lack of adequate domestic and emotional support can have consequences on women's mental health both in in the short term with the increase of the risk of developing anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
There were women who have already been in emotional distress prior to the pandemic such as those who were facing post-partum or other depression, or those in unhealthy, abusive relationships, these new confines further exacerbate stress and underscore a feeling of being alone, trapped, and helpless in the face of their fear. Women trapped in such an escalating cycle of tension, abuse, power and control are vulnerable to experiencing Mental Health conditions and trauma. Additionally, the stigma and lack of (and access to) social support, particularly now, often leads to internalization of abuse and directing the anger, humiliation and fear towards themselves, aggravating feelings of worthlessness and helplessness amongst them.
Compounding the already existing challenges, women have faced more job-losses than men during the pandemic and this has further contributed to their Mental Health concerns. They are no longer able to contribute to financially support their families and this can often lead to feelings of worthlessness and guilt. Additionally, many of the women who lost their jobs were earlier employed in hard hit service-sector positions (hospitality, food service, etc.), and with the simultaneous closure of schools and day cares, they have now found themselves bearing the additional burdens of home - all while isolating and social distancing. These working women would usually have a good support network or have assistance either from paid services or elders in the family to help with their household responsibilities, particularly around looking after their children. For those who still hold their jobs, they have been hit hard by the pandemic as they try to strike a balance between the various roles they play – juggling office duties (if they yet hold their job) with household care. Their personal and professional lives have gone for a toss in the absence of support, an orderly structure or even networking systems. In many countries, the onus is on the women to maintain many aspects of life, like taking care of the daily household responsibilities, the wellbeing of their children and spouses and also in managing the meals for the household unit. These additional responsibilities, coupled with the stressors of the pandemic, has contributed to significant levels of stress for women.
Additionally, let’s also not forget the older women who either lived alone or in care homes who are facing further isolation as they are not able to meet their loved ones or friends for months on end while and are now living with the feeling of an extended burden of extreme isolation and not to mention the fear of infection. When it comes to care homes, individuals living there often have hard lives and one of the things they look forward to the most is usually their visits from family and loved ones, but the pandemic has deprived them of that joy.
Covid-19 is a dangerous disease, which attacks and damages several body system, be it our the lungs, the heart, the liver, the kidneys. Though it doesn’t attack the mind directly, the pandemic the virus has caused has been devastating to Mental Health, and in many cases, the most vulnerable group has been women. While we don’t have enough conversations about women’s Mental Health, lets take this pandemic as an opportunity to encourage conversation, build awareness and provide more support to women all around the world, especially when it comes to their Mental Health.
Written by: Vedica Podar
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