Friday, July 17, 2020

COVID-19 and gender inequality strikes a double whammy on women’s mental health

6 min read
Written by

Feel Therapeutics

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many people feeling stressed and anxious most of the time. Life, as we knew it has changed, with social distancing, lockdown, being furloughed or even losing jobs, working from home, home-schooling, worrying about the disease, and feeling a lack of control over when it will end.

A study by Feel revealed a 200% increase in negative emotions during the COVID-19 pandemic, which indicates just how much the outbreak affected mental health.

For women, even before COVID-19, they faced a double stigma, being twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety as men and facing career limitations just for being a woman.

According to the World Health Organization’s ‘Gender and women’s mental health’ article [1]: “Pressures created by their multiple roles, gender discrimination and associated factors of poverty, hunger, malnutrition, overwork, domestic violence, and sexual abuse, combine to account for women’s poor mental health. There is a positive relationship between the frequency and severity of such social factors and the frequency and severity of mental health problems in women.”

COVID-19 has created a perfect storm for women’s mental health. An early April poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly three out of five women (57%), who had children under the age of 18, felt that COVID-19 worry and stress had negatively impacted their mental health, this was a 21% increase from a poll conducted only 14 days earlier. The survey also revealed that women with children under the age of 18 were more likely to report these mental health problems than their male counterparts and that the 81% were more likely to stay at home instead of going to work or partaking in regular activities.

Why has COVID-19 impacted women more than men?

One of the main reasons why women’s mental health has been affected more than men’s is because women still take responsibility for the majority of the household and are seen as a family’s primary carer.

This work-home conflict that is both a symptom and cause of gender inequality has been a stressful challenge over the past six months. Women have had to deal with:

  • Working from home and learning all the new technology that comes with it
  • Keeping children focused on home-schooling, or entertained as they as a parent attempt to work
  • Trying to maintain a harmonious household as everyone is stuck indoors.

Another reason why women’s mental health has been affected is down to job losses because COVID-19 has affected service-oriented sectors such as hospitality that predominantly employ more women.

The University of Southern California (USC) has been running a study ‘Understanding Coronavirus in America’ (UCA), which is an internet Panel of approximately 7,000 individuals representing the entire United States. Participants answer surveys on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, wherever they are and whenever they wish to participate.

To date, the study has conducted six tracking waves between March and June 2020 to analyse participants’ perceptions and attitudes about COVID-19 and its impact on their lives.

Increase in women’s emotional distress

The UCA study has revealed that nearly 50% of women with children experienced psychological distress in early April as opposed to 40% of women without children. Both of which were higher than men.

Although the levels have decreased slowly, by the middle of June, there were still almost twice as many women than men experiencing psychological distress.

Women as primary carers

Analysis of figures surrounding child care showed that following school and daycare closures, 44% of women were the only household members providing childcare as opposed to 14% of men.

This has caused an impact on many women’s careers because, as the early April tracking wave noted a third of working mothers were the primary care provider, but only a tenth of working fathers were.

As a result, many working mothers significantly reduced their working hours to accommodate their children’s needs, and over 50% of women without children also reduced their working hours.

Is it any wonder then that this reinforcement of women as primary carers does nothing to remove the stigma that women face in the workplace.

As Kate O’Brien states in her article ‘Why we still struggle with work-home conflict in men women and men’ [3]: “The assumption of negative spill-over, that family responsibilities impair work performance and vice versa, rather than being mutually enhancing, could well discourage employers from recruiting and promoting primary carers.”

COVID-19’s impact on women’s jobs

When it comes to jobs, the UCA study found that non-college-educated women experienced the most significant number of job losses, with 15% losing their jobs between March and early April. However, by mid-June, that number was down to just 10%.

For college-educated women, the job loss rate was equivalent to their male counterparts.

The problems women face getting mental health support

A woman’s risk of developing depression or anxiety disorders increases from the onset of puberty. Additionally, the natural hormonal fluctuations, especially in estrogen, may be a trigger for issues such as PMS, postpartum depression, and peri- and post-menopause.

With gender discrimination affecting their career paths, and the increased anxiety they can feel when they become mothers, they can feel helpless.

This gender discrimination continues when it comes to treating mental health problems. WHO discovered that even though women present with identical symptoms to men, or have similar scores on the standardized measure of depression, doctors were more likely to diagnose depression and prescribe mood-altering, psychotropic drugs.

In part, this is because when it comes to diagnosing treating mental health, gender is not taken into account.

As such, mental health care and support can inadvertently discriminate against women because they have been designed, consciously or unconsciously, around the needs of men.

Objective data brings personalized treatment to mental health care

The current mental health care model has the medical profession relying on isolated snapshots in time and patient questionnaires, which can lead to missed diagnoses. 50% of mental health issues are currently untreated or undiagnosed. There is also the problem of access to care, as demand outstrips supply, and the care itself is fragmented.

Feel is a holistic mental health program that uses its proprietary Feel Emotion Sensor to quantify a person’s emotional state for the very first time, and deliver 24/7 emotional health support to those in need. Sentio Solutions, the company behind Feel, also developed Feel Relief, a new tailored and structured mental health program to meet the demand and need for emotional help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both the Feel Relief Program and the Feel Program rely on real-time, continuous, objective data regarding a person’s emotional state. As the mental health professional receives continuous data about their patient’s emotional state, they can offer personalized support that allows them to be up to four times more efficient in treating issues. The programs benefit the mental health sector by not only eliminating waiting times to access mental health support but, most importantly, enabling the real-time interventions. Both programs were created as part of our efforts to develop digital biomarkers and therapeutics to bring objective, passive, and continuous measurement and data to reinvent the way we diagnose, manage, and care for mental health.

The result is the real-time provision on-time support and intervention.

Keeping your mental health in good shape is just as important as keeping your body in good shape right now.

And one positive thing that COVID-19 has done is that it has modernized the way people can access mental health care and helped drive developments in remote patient monitoring.

If you feel you need a personal trainer for your mental health, then click below to sign up for the Feel Relief program right away.

Click here if you would like to buy the Feel Relief program.


[1] World Health Organization, ‘Gender and Women’s Mental Health’:

[2] Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020, ‘The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use’:

[3] Kate O’Brien, Associate Professor, University of Queensland: ‘Why we still struggle with work-home conflict in women and men’

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