COVID-19 continues to affect millions of people around the world. But while preventive measures have been taken to control the spread of the virus, not enough has been done for its other lethal effects.
One of them is its effect on mental health. The repercussions have been especially devastating for women. History tells us that pandemics and epidemics have always dealt a severe blow to women’s lifestyle and mental health. For instance, in 2014-15, the Ebola outbreak in Africa destroyed the livelihoods of many traders, 85 percent of whom were women, meaning more women than men tend to face unemployment in times like this.
The socio-economic impact of the coronavirus also left many women in sustained isolation — without jobs and with increased domestic responsibility. A 2015 survey by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development found that Indian women do six hours of unpaid work in a day compared to the less than an hour for men. The number of hours, however, are likely to have gone up on the onset of the pandemic.
With schools and workplaces being shut, this pandemic also brought about a rise in domestic violence cases against women.
Anxiety is in the air
This cocktail of stress, anxiety, and fear combined with social isolation has had a significant emotional impact on women. A recent study by CARE International found that while almost everyone is experiencing anxiety and emotional fatigue because of the pandemic, women are suffering almost three times more from significant mental health consequences.
It found that 27 percent of women reported anxiety, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, etc., across the world, compared to the 10 percent reported by men.
Another survey by Total Brain showed that depression has increased by 83 percent in women compared to 36 percent in men. Women who were already dealing with mental health issues are left feeling lonely, helpless, and anxious. Older women, particularly the ones that live alone, are taking a hit because of social isolation. Healthcare workers are facing mental exhaustion due to the fear of infection and long shifts.
Not to forget the social stigma that they have to face.
Being infected by COVID-19 is considered shameful by many. People are scared to even seek treatments at this point. Families have started to hide their COVID-19 status because of the stigma.
P. Poorna Chandrika, Director at Institute of Mental Health, told reporters, “The stigma does have an impact on the mental well-being of people. It makes them susceptible to distress, anxiety, and sleeplessness.”
Mental health aside, there is also the need for awareness that the coronavirus is only a viral infection and there’s nothing to be ashamed about if one is affected.
Help is always here
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had predicted that mental illness would be the leading cause of burden worldwide by 2030. A study by The Lancet in India between 1990 and 2017 found that 197 million Indians were suffering from mental disorders. More so, the women. The less visible, but no less dreadful emotional struggle of people exists because of their gender.
However, mental health is no longer considered a taboo, and more people are talking about these issues. As a result, affordable and accessible tools are also around now.
Many organisations in the country are working towards bettering women’s mental health — The Banyan, United We Care, Minds Foundation, and more.
India also has online platforms like Manastha, BetterLyf, YourDOST, Mfine, and Wysa that provide counselling.
The full magnitude of the impact on women is yet to be discovered. But we have to step up policies and put measures in place to protect women. There have to be efforts by institutions across legal, healthcare, rehabilitation, and more to ensure gender equality. As a society, we simply have to survive this global pandemic without turning an entire gender’s mental health into collateral damage.
If you’re seeking mental health support in India, please call the helpline - KIRAN at 1800-599-0019.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)