“I lost many patients, babies and mothers to COVID-19… mentally, emotionally and physically the pandemic took a toll on me. I was over-worked due to shortage of doctors and had not slept for days in a row”, says doctor Anmol Dewan. I had to stay away from my family for almost ten months, she added. The pandemic has impacted the lives of innumerable people and families across the world. Lockdown has resulted in an increase in mental health issues. The concept of mental health gained prominence due to pandemic induced health-related worries, loneliness and the accentuated cases of depression, anxiety and even suicides. “Balancing work and personal life became an issue for me and my mental health got impacted to a great extend”, says Ekhanee Boruah, an editor and educator.
Mental health concerns grew dramatically as the pandemic started to feel permanent. Working women, between the age of 23-40s, reached out for psychological and emotional support. Young professionals, who were beginning their work journeys, felt stuck in anxious thought patterns and grappled with the virtual experience of settling into a new work environment, as they never got to physically meet their colleagues to start with, neither could they visit their offices. Joining a new workplace online brought with it challenges which seemed confusing and difficult to manage.
Female students who had recently moved to other countries for their higher education or for a new job found themselves reaching out to therapists with a similar cultural and ethnic background. Being away from home and moving into a new country brings a series of challenging experiences like dealing with homesickness, a culture shock that comes with changes in the environment and climate and the persistent pressure and expectation to do their best at the job/University as there is a huge financial investment which adds to the acute stress amongst others.
Dealing with the fear of contracting the virus, experiencing grief and managing fatigue, the past two years have been a real crisis for the mental health of individuals across all ages, genders and backgrounds. I worked with young people, men and women and older adults who deal with a range of emotional and psychological challenges such as anxiety, clinical depression, mood disorders, and trauma amongst others,” says Nishi Joshi, who is a Registered Psychotherapist ( RDMP- UK), Founder & Creative Director of The Safe Sanctuary.
The COVID-19 virus had an adverse effect on many lives and women were impacted in several aspects. In terms of work, work from home started and working women shared several responsibilities. Balancing family life with work life is not an easy task considering majority of the women have to take care of their children’s online classes, manage their own work from home and also do household chores. So much so, it seems that the strides made towards gender equality in the domestic spheres were of no value as more women found themselves relegated to the stereotypical caretaking and cooking roles with men in the households merely “supporting or helping” them.
A new study ‘Impacts of COVID-19 on women in low-income households in India’, which focuses on women and prioritises recovery efforts to support them, was conducted by Dalberg, a social impact advisory group. The research, conducted through telephonic surveys from October 20 to November 14 2020, encapsulates the experience of women living through the world’s longest lockdown from March 24 to May 31, 2020, and the following months from June through October 2020.
The respondents were selected from 10 states — Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal, representing 63 per cent of the population in low-income households across India.
Among the key findings of the study was that women made up just 24 per cent of earners before the pandemic but represent 43 per cent of those yet to recover their work. Authors of the report said they estimated that nearly 8.7 million (87 lakh) women working before the pandemic remained out of the workforce as of October 2020. During the lockdown, they found that on an average, women had lost two-thirds of their meagre incomes.
According to Amit Monga, who is a clinical hypnotherapist based in Delhi, “Cases of migraine amongst women had increased tremendously as the pandemic had a severe toll on women as compared to men. This can be attributed to the increase in the level of responsibilities which added to their level of anxiety.” “The pandemic brought about a definite change in my work pattern: from ‘all-day’ office, it slowly became work from home and then moved on to a hybrid situation. I have adapted to it and now learnt to cultivate a healthy lifestyle for my mental well-being,” says Anita Joseph, a Dubai-based journalist.
“The pandemic has brought a lot of additional pressure on women. Be it a home-maker or a professional, the responsibilities to take care of household chores, office work, raising kids without any social vent or escape has resulted in emotional instability for women. As couples are forced to stick along due to lockdown, those who don’t get along had to go through domestic abuse and violence at home resulting in cases of depression, insomnia, substance abuse and suicide,” says Dr Ankita Priyadarshini, Psychiatrist.
One major section of our society that has been left out and neglected in the pandemic, consists of sex workers, who have mostly been neglected from the mainstream society, resulting in huge mental health issues, financial difficulties and identity crisis.
Amidst such times, Kat-Katha, a Delhi-based NGO, has been relentlessly helping the didis of GB Road by providing ration, food items and getting them vaccinated.
Kat-Katha works to provide alternative livelihood choices to the sex workers on GB Road and a conducive growth environment to their kids. Their aim is to convert GB Road from a road of sex workers and slaves to “Pyaar Ka Mohalla” (A Street of Love).
“Actually, as per my experience, this place has so much of sadness, which means even if you just spend time here, the sadness starts to live inside you. In such case, it impacts your mental health and taking care of the same is not something that everyone knows — especially our didis who have no access to doctors or other therapies. In such cases, a support group, a trusted group can become ones therapist and that is what we offer,” says Gitanjali Babbar, Founder of Kat-Katha.
Increase in domestic violence
The National Commission for Women (NCW) registered an increase of 94 per cent in complaints of women being assaulted in their homes during the lockdown. One can imagine that these are just the official numbers, given how several women do not have the access or the know-how to report domestic abuse the way many others might do.
According to a study by the University of California Davis, researchers attribute this to increased social isolation creating more stress which can result in violent reactions. Social isolation has also caused circumstances where victims and aggressors cannot separate, and there are fewer options for women to escape their conditions.
Gender diversity should be kept at the heart of all post pandemic approaches towards restorative measures. In terms of providing support, mentoring, counselling and sponsorship, it is imperative that women across communities, especially those at the margins are provided support.
Varalika Mishra is a Mental Health Advocate, Founder of Your Story Is Important – Her initiative on Mental Health. She is a certified Mental Health First Aider on Suicide Prevention. She is a freelance journalist and an Educator. Mishra is also a certified Tarot Reader and a published Author with her latest book, Shanti Panna published by Notion Press. You can find her on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
Featured Image Source: GenderIT