COVID-19 and Women’s Mental Health: The Impact on Wellbeing, Disparities, and Future Implications
The Coronavirus, first declared as a global pandemic on March 11th, 2020, has impacted millions of individuals in a variety of ways. Across the nation, people have suffered financially, physically, and emotionally from the virus. As a result, an immense number of individuals’ mental health amongst every age group have taken an extreme toll. However, a prominent population that has been heavily impacted have been women.
According to research, the fatality rate for men has been twice as high than for women – however, the pandemic has impacted more women’s mental health than men. Because women represent the majority of the health workforce, they have been at a greater risk for COVID-19 and the emotional toll it comes with (Thibault, 2020). The effects of quarantine alone have caused many to feel isolated, lost, and scared, which is distressing for anyone – but add a susceptible population for increased mental health issues into the mix, and you have a recipe for disaster.
The Impact: Statistics
The COVID-19 pandemic surged mental health concerns and has disproportionately impacted women and girls. Unfortunately, policy decisions and health initiatives often overlook women’s health, especially mental health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.N. agencies, low and middle-income countries spend less than 1.6% of health budgets on mental health. These dynamics are reversing progress made toward closing gender gaps (Johnson, 2021). Globally, women are reporting a higher increase in anxiety and depression than men.
According to CARE’s Rapid Gender Analysis and the impact of the pandemic on men ‘s and women’s lives across 38 countries, the number of women who reported mental health impacts from COVID-19 was threefold that of men. More than a quarter of women reported increased stress, anxiety and other mental health struggles (CARE, 2021). Not only has the labor increased for women in the frontline, but domestic violence and violence against women have increased since quarantine, too. Shelters, hotlines, and other resources for women experiencing violence have reported a dramatic increase in number of reportings since the start of COVID-19. Because of the violence and stress on women throughout the pandemic, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression have become more prevalent in women across nations (Johnson, 2021). Lastly, another mental health hardship women have faced since the start of COVID-19 has been related to family stress. With many schools rapidly opening and closing, many mothers have had disproportionately more stress and responsibilities, including home-schooling children, all while managing their own psychological responses to COVID-19 (Noursi, 2020). With all of this to say, the gender gap is not getting any smaller because of these repercussions, and the pandemic does not appear to be ending anytime soon, either.
Telehealth and Further Implications:
Telehealth has become the new normal as an alternative to in-person services, which is safer and more convenient for some – but not all. There have been major disparities amongst communities with a lack of accessibility to resources that may enable others to successfully utilize telehealth services. Many individuals and families don’t have access to internet in their home, let alone a device to communicate with providers. According to an article on PubMed, less than 20% of people who need mental health care have access to the services they need (PubMed, 2020). Because of the prevalence rate of women facing mental illness, it is increasingly essential now more than ever for women to have the ability to access mental health care.
An additional barrier to accessing mental health services in the pandemic has been facilities temporarily closing in-person services, becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to establish care for the first time with a provider. This has resulted in virtual crisis hotlines being the only option, which cannot replace long-term therapy. Since March 2020, conversations with essential and frontline workers at Crisis Text Line have increased 4-fold (PubMed, 2020). The research that has been done since the start of the pandemic has only further proven how essential the funding and accessibility for mental health truly is.
As the pandemic is continuing to be navigated, it is important that we consider future implications for mental health services and telehealth, especially for women. Additionally, as policymakers continue to discuss further actions to alleviate the hardships of the pandemic, it is crucial that individual’s mental health is taken into consideration into any additional relief package, should it come our way. We knew before that mental health services were necessary for individuals to have, as 1 out of every 4 people suffer from a mental illness, but now, amidst a pandemic, we know even more how essential accessibility to mental health services are. The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) was a step in the right direction, but further aid and oversight for mental health services are necessary for the sake of the general wellbeing of our nation.
The Importance of Self-Care
When you have a full-time job, are a mother, or may be a full-time student, for example, self-care doesn’t always make its way to the top of the to-do list. During this difficult time of living in a pandemic, with stress running high, it is more important than ever to take care of your physical and mental health. Jackson-Preston, a researcher of self-care and burnout among hospital and public health workforces, says, “If we don’t learn how to manage ourselves, [then] how are we going to get through this? Because this is definitely a marathon, this is not a sprint,” (Preston, 2020). Many of us did not expect the pandemic to linger as long as it has – so why not take care of ourselves in the meantime and come out stronger?
Activities such as exercise, listening to music, talking to a therapist, journaling, and developing a consistent sleep routine are ways you can better both your physical and mental health. If we can hold ourselves accountable, we will succeed – because, not only has COVID-19 shown what grief, loss, and isolation look like; it has also presented how essential unity, community, and solidarity is in these trying times (socially distanced, of course)!
Below are statistics of women and increasing levels of mental health issues related to COVID-19.
CARE Insights. In Practice Rapid Gender Analysis. Rapid gender analysis. https://insights.careinternational.org.uk/in-practice/rapid-gender-analysis.
Noursi , D. S. Guest Blog-COVID-19 and women’s health. https://orwh.od.nih.gov/about/director/messages/guest-blog-covid-19-and-womens-health.
Pfender, E. Mental Health and COVID-19: Implications for the Future of Telehealth. Journal of Patient Experience. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7415938/.
Prioritizing Women’s Mental Health During COVID-19. BORGEN. (2021, January 7). https://www.borgenmagazine.com/womens-mental-health-during-covid/.
Thibaut, F., & van Wijngaarden-Cremers, P. J. M. (2020, October 26). Women’s Mental Health in the Time of Covid-19 Pandemic. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fgwh.2020.588372/full#:~:text=Psychiatric%20Symptoms%20in%20COVID%2019%20Positive%20Patients,-Guo%20et%20al&text=(32)%20reported%20that%20COVID%2D,compared%20to%20men%20and%20controls.
This article was first published in The SERVE Project blog.