If the threat of getting sick, seeing family members die, losing work and living in socially distanced quarantines weren’t bad enough, a new Kaiser Family Foundation study has revealed that 69% of women under the age of 30 believe COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health.
To conduct the survey, researchers with the nonprofit health organization (a Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Hall of Fame company) surveyed a random sampling of 1,862 men and women between March 15 and March 22 of this year.
Among their biggest findings: nearly 7 in 10 women under the age of 30 reported that COVID-19 had taken a severe, negative impact on their mental health. When looking at women as a whole, that trend also held true with 55% of those surveyed saying their mental health had worsened over the last year, compared to just 38% of men.
Shefali Luthra of the nonprofit newsroom The 19th reported that the survey “underscores the extent to which, even as [the pandemic] wanes over the next year, COVID-19 will continue to exert an immense mental health burden — one that it’s unclear the nation’s health care infrastructure will be prepared to address.”
According to the report, “younger adults and women, including mothers with children under 18 years old in their households, are among the most likely to report that stress and worry related to coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health. Nearly half of Black adults (49%), White adults (48%), and about four in ten Hispanic adults (43%) say the coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health, including 3 in 10 Black adults (31%) and one-fourth of white (23%) and Hispanic (25%) adults who say it has had a ‘major impact.’”
Although the Kaiser study didn’t look at how LGBTQ individuals had been impacted by the pandemic, Luthra reported on “data collected by Ipsos Public Affairs [which] showed that, between August 21 and December 21, about a third of LGBTQ+ people reported their mental health had declined, compared to about a fifth of people outside of the queer community.”
Even before the coronavirus hit the U.S., women — and particularly Black women, Latinx women, mothers and LGBTQ individuals — were already facing an increased risk of anxiety or depression, conditions that have only worsened and become increasingly common over the last year.
“Experts don’t fully understand why but link it in part to the fact that women more often work in lower-wage jobs — which is tied to worse mental health — and more often carry caregiving burdens. COVID-19 has exacerbated that vulnerability,” said Luthra. “Though women appear less likely to die of the virus, they have been far more likely to take on childcare burdens because of pandemic-induced school and daycare closures, and more likely to have lost work because of the crisis.”
Equally troubling, according to the survey: “Many adults who reported worsened mental health due to the pandemic also report forgoing mental health treatment. About one-third (32%) of those who reported a negative impact on their mental health (representing 15% of all adults) say there was a time in the past year when they thought they might need mental health services or medication but did not get them.”
The Kaiser researchers Audrey Kearney, Liz Hamel, and Mollyann Brodie wrote that “nearly half of mothers (46%) who report a negative mental health impact due to the pandemic (27% of all mothers) say they did not get mental health care that they needed. In addition, about 1 in 5 adults under age 50, Black adults and women say they have experienced worsened mental health due to the pandemic and have not gotten mental health services or medication they thought they might need.”
Hamel told The 19th that a number of different factors were likely at play and preventing people from getting the mental health care they needed, including accessibility, financial barriers and challenges in finding an appropriate provider. It all suggests that “lack of access and affordability are barriers for people,” she said.
Other experts agree, adding that accessibility is a problem that will likely be with us as a country for some time. In an interview with The 19th, Dr. Cindy Liu, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, explained that the effects of COVID-19 will, unfortunately, persist long after the threat of contracting the disease has eased.
“The pandemic widens existing disparities,” she said. “It’s going to have long-term consequences.”