COVID-19's Outsized Effect on Women's Mental Health

The Covid-19 pandemic that forced governments around the world to enforce strict lockdowns has left a noticeable negative impact on everyone. The percentage of people reporting the degradation of their mental health has spiked in the past few months compared to the pre-lockdown period.

A KFF health tracking poll was conducted in July 2020, which stated that almost 53% of adults in the USA had been mentally affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which is much higher than the 32% recorded in March 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic affects certain parts of the body, such as the lungs, the heart, the liver, and the kidneys. However, these are just physical damages that are visible. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on people's mental health, with women being severely impacted.

Adverse effects on people such as difficulty eating, sleeping, alcohol, and substance abuse have become a vital cause of concern, ultimately leading people into self-isolation and job loss. The National Center of Health Statistics with the Census Bureau monitored the recent changes in people's mental health during the Covid-19 crisis through a 20-min online survey that included questions regarding anxiety and depression. The statistics, along with a study done by Total Brain, showed that women with children below the age of eighteen were more plausible to show symptoms of major depressive and anxiety disorders that their male counterparts.

According to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC), the pandemic has led to many men losing their lives, so why should we focus more on women? Because of the lockdown period and the social, cultural, and economic factors, women face a sharp increase in their household and familial responsibilities that lead to a fall in their mental health due to financial dependency and loss of freedom and space.

Several underlying reasons for the degradation of women's mental health in such challenging times are leading women into depression and other mental health disorders. Here are a few of them.

  1. Severe Economic Blows

Due to the coronavirus induced pandemic, economies around the world have gone into recessionary cycle. The consequences of the pandemic have been catastrophic resulting in several people being laid off. The unemployment rate was at its peak in April. A recent observation found out that women were more subjected to being laid off than men. This led to income insecurity and a sense of dependency on them, which affected their mental health. And in countries that place women in lower-paying jobs, creating unfair labor, a division created immense emotional burden and trauma on women. Instead of working from home, the women work at home, which has brought job loss among women at the forefront.

An inspection done by the Kaiser Family Foundation submitted that women worry more about the loss of income due to the disruption of work caused by Covid-19, as compared to men.

On top of that, women placed at higher positions are subject to more social tension and anxiety in fear of losing their jobs, independent identity, and economic independence. This has led them to helplessly try and prove their efficiency and commitment to the organization, leading to physical and mental exhaustion.

  1. Caregiving Responsibility

Employed or unemployed, women have always managed to divide their time between work and home sufficiently. A U.S. study shows that 55% of employed women do more household chores, including spending time with their children, compared to 18% of men. Oxfam's report, 'Time to Care,' stated that women spend up to 3.26 billion hours in unpaid caregiving work each day, contributing to the Indian economy up to $25 billion per year, twenty times the budget of the Indian education system.

Due to the global lockdown and quarantine, women have double the physical and emotional burden they had previously. They have to rely on their male correlatives, but they were also burdened with their families' caregiving responsibilities, which is an equally taxing task. According to a CARE study, it was noticed that men continued to work from home. At the same time, women dealt with the trauma of losing their jobs and had to look after their children and their education, along with all other household chores. It is even worse in homes where the size of the family is big compared to western standards. This has led women to develop severe chronic anxiety and depressive disorders.

  1. Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Abuse

One of the most dangerous and brutal effects of the pandemic is that women have been forced to quarantine themselves with their abusive spouses. Home is not a safe spot for everyone, and in several countries, there has been a notable rise in the number of domestic abuse cases during the lockdown period. The National Commission for Women (NCW) in India has raised an alert against the rising number of incidences registered under the Domestic Violence Act.

Gender-biased violence has dramatically increased in terms of physical abuse and emotional and sexual abuse. Several marital rape incidents go heavily unreported, especially in a country with no laws against it. Women have to deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder that follows these incidents of abuse against them, along with more exposure to such trauma repeatedly.

Women have to take care of the childcare needs and have the extreme burden of satisfying their husbands' sexual needs, which has resulted in several unplanned pregnancies in this period.

The trauma leads women to feel persistent sadness and hopelessness, dramatic changes in appetite, sleep disorders, fatigue, excessive fear and worry, irritability, headaches, and worse, suicidal thoughts.

As the number of coronavirus cases rise, so do the number of domestic abuse cases. Women's rights activists, executive authorities, and civil society members have demanded emergency shelters for women in countries like France, Argentina, the United States, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom due to an intense escalation in the number of reported cases.

In the past 12 months, up to 243 million women and girls worldwide, between the ages of 15-49, have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by household members. As the pandemic continues, the number keeps growing daily, impacting women's well-being, sexual and reproductive health, and mental health.

The only ways to overcome this emotional and mental trauma that the women in the society are being put through is by setting up helplines and shelters for women as essential services. The government needs to support women's organizations that have tirelessly worked to provide psychosocial support, online counseling, and helplines to women in need and expanding their reach to women who do not have access to phones and the internet. The police and the judicial system need to throw light on the increasing violence cases against women and its importance. Lastly, the organized industries need to quit being gender-biased and start giving credit to people based on their annual performance. The offices can help create awareness about the effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had over everyone, tackle the mental stress that it has caused, create cells that positively reinforce women, and help them battle any domestic issues.

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused irreversible destruction. The loss that it has caused to millions of people worldwide is unexplainable. Great economic recession, salary cuts, job losses, shattered businesses, and death are the noticeable results of this pandemic. What is going comparatively unnoticed is the emotional and mental pain that billions of people are going through, which needs to be the issue at hand.

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