Covid-19 restrictions have left women and children worn out — study
Lack of job security, lower salaries and being more hands-on when caring for the sick in their homes during the Covid-19 pandemic may have put women in a more vulnerable position for mental health disorders, a new study suggests.
According to research by a team of international researchers in 204 countries, the pandemic has led to an increase in depressive and anxiety disorders, particularly in women and children.
Increases in the prevalence of major depressive and anxiety disorders during 2020 were both associated with increasing Covid-19 infection rates and decreasing human mobility.
The two impacts — combined with other pandemic aspects, including the spread of the coronavirus, lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, decreased public transport, school and business closures and decreased social interactions — exacerbated the risk of mental health disorders.
For both disorders, females were affected more than males, and younger age groups were affected more than older age groups.
The co-author of the study, Prof Charles Shey Wiysonge from the Medical Research Council and honorary professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Cape Town (UCT), said this was anticipated because women are more likely to be affected by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.
“Additional career and household responsibilities due to school closures or family members becoming unwell are more likely to fall on women. Women are more likely to be financially disadvantaged during the pandemic due to lower salaries, less savings and less secure employment than their male counterparts.
“They are also more likely to be victims of domestic violence, the prevalence of which increased during periods of lockdown and stay-at-home orders,” he said.
The study, a systematic review of data reporting the prevalence of major depressive and anxiety disorders between January 1 2020 and January 29 2021, which has been published in The Lancet, also found young people were more affected than older age groups.
With school closures and wider social restrictions in place, researchers noted young people have been unable to come together in physical spaces, “affecting their ability to learn and for peer interaction”.
Furthermore, young people are more likely to become unemployed during and following economic crises than older people.
The United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organisation (Unesco) declared Covid-19 to be the most severe disruption to global education in history, estimating 1.6-billion learners in more than 190 countries to be fully or partially out of school in 2020.
With school closures and wider social restrictions in place, Wiysonge said young people have been unable to come together in physical spaces, affecting their ability to learn and for peer interaction.
Wiysonge and his colleagues estimated an additional 53.2-million cases of major depressive disorder globally — an increase of 27.6% — due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
They also estimated an additional 76.2-million cases of anxiety disorders globally, or an increase of 25.6%. Altogether, major depressive disorder caused 49.4-million disability-adjusted life-years (Dalys) and anxiety disorders caused 44.5-million Dalys globally in 2020.
Researchers noted the increases in the prevalence of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders during 2020 were both associated with increasing Covid-19 infection rates and decreasing human mobility. The countries hit hardest by the pandemic during 2020 had the greatest increases in prevalence of these disorders..
Wiysonge noted that before the emergence of Covid-19, major depressive and anxiety disorders were the leading causes of disease burden “with the mental health-care system in most countries under-resourced and disorganised in their service delivery”.
“Tackling this increased mental health burden will present immediate challenges in most nations, but it is also an opportunity for countries to broadly reconsider their mental health service response. Recommended mitigation strategies should incorporate ways to promote mental wellbeing and target determinants of poor mental health exacerbated by the pandemic, as well as interventions to treat those who develop a mental disorder.
“Taking no action in the face of the estimated impact of Covid-19 on the prevalence and burden of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders should not be an option.”