4. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON THE MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS AND WHAT IMPLICATIONS THIS MAY HAVE IN A GENDERED CONTEXT?
At the start of April 2020, CARE and the International Rescue Committee published an article entitled Rapid Gender Assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic where they highlighted ways in which women are likely to suffer from the pandemic.
They mentioned the limited sex-disaggregated data, unequal access to healthcare, the care-giving burden as unpaid care (work that could be a double-burden in women health workers) and a lack of gender balance and a gender lens in decision-making.
We believe that the psychological and sociological aspects should also be mentioned in the COVID-19 context. Most caregivers (both paid and unpaid) are women taking care of their family members. Unfortunately, with the preventive measures that the pandemic has imposed upon society, this situation has become even more stressful for them. Similarly, there are palliative care patients who cannot say their final goodbyes to their relatives.
There are other types of essential workers who are also predominately women that have been negatively affected by the virus socially, mentally, and physically. In Hubei, China for example 90% of healthcare workers are women.
The mental health impact of the quarantine and the social isolation and physical distancing that most of us are now experiencing is huge. There are some explanations behind this impact and visible differences among men and women:
- The risk factors for stress, anxiety, and even depressive disorders increase due to the physical isolation, changes in daily routines, loss of employment, fear of the disease itself.
- Women are at higher risk of developing mental disorders related to stress and there is a compound risk given our biology. Social isolation is a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Let us not forget about the people who already have mental diseases. This restrictive situation has become a challenge for them and their therapists, especially because how they receive and give treatment respectively has changed completely.
A good starting point for addressing the mental health impact of COVID-19 on the population would be for governments to have clear communications with the public.
A Lancet article puts forward that having a clear communication strategy would mitigate the psychological impact of the disease.
5. WHAT WOULD BE THE MAIN OPPORTUNITY IN CONDUCTING SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH THROUGH A GENDER LENS IN THE CONTEXT OF COVID-19?
There are several opportunities in the current situation:
- Improve the way we do science and clinical development.
- Learn there are differences in how the virus affects women and men but also differences in age and co-morbidities.
- Carefully considering all these differences, understand how the disease is acting and what are the most effective treatments for it.
- Consider socio-economic aspects affected to develop social policy strategies: income, education, employment, etc.
- Have a clear epidemiological understanding of the virus, how it works, how it attacks the body, and how to target it with medicine and drugs.
These opportunities are true not only for COVID-19 but for every type of disease. This is a unique moment to improve the way science is being done to include development in technologies; what could almost be considered a silver lining of disruption for the world and societal systems to improve, so that any future such challenges are met with greater resilience. What we could have is a more precise picture to bring out the different needs of the different groups.
6. DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, HOW ARE YOU CURRENTLY ENGAGING WITH PATIENTS, CAREGIVERS, POLICYMAKERS AND OTHER STAKEHOLDERS?
WBP is a global organisation; we have always worked in a virtual manner. Our work has not changed significantly in the current crisis; however, we are now trying to scale it up. We aim to continue learning what the differences mean in the science sector and when they are relevant. We have hosted online workshops to engage with our followers and plan to host further workshops in the future.
The first virtual workshop took place on the 16th April 2020 in which we discussed “Sex and Gender Differences in the COVID-19 Pandemic”.
The next workshops will have different topics. We want to talk about the impact of the quarantine on mental health and society more broadly, the change in people’s lifestyles, and ethical implications that have arisen from this crisis. Of course, we are always open to suggestions from members of the public as to what topics we discuss at these workshops and continue to engage and exchange information with them.
Any interested parties can contact us through our website or send us an email at:
7. WHAT ARE YOUR KEY ACTIVITIES FOR THE REST OF 2020 AND INTO 2021?
Every year, we organise our International Forum on Women’s Brain & Mental Health, typically in Switzerland. The International Forum on Women’s Brain and Mental Health in 2019 focused on the topic of Sex and Gender Differences in Mental and Brain Health: The Gateway to Precision Medicine.
This year, the Forum is scheduled to take place on 19-20 September 2020. Given the COVID-19 crisis, we are exploring the possibility of hosting this on a virtual platform, and we should have a better idea on the exact format of the event in the coming weeks. You can register your interest here.
What we can confirm is the topic of this year’s Forum will focus on the Sex and Gender Differences in Brain and Mental Health Throughout the Lifespan. This will include topics such as migraine, dementia, mental health crises during adolescence, maternal mental health, and others – with COVID-19 integrated into the programme. We still expect high participation and debate.