Devastating Impact Of A Pandemic On Indian Females And Their Mental Health

Ten million girls in India could drop out of secondary school due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a Right to Education Forum policy brief. With 1.6 million girls aged 11 to 14 years currently out of school, the pandemic could disproportionately impact girls further by putting them at risk of early marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, trafficking and violence

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Varalika Mishra
Varalika Mishra
is a Mental Health activist, author and a freelance journalist

“I lost many patients, babies and mothers due to Covid, mentally, emotionally and physically the pandemic took a toll on me. I was overworked due to a 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 10 months, she added. The pandemic has impacted the lives of innumerable people and families across the world. Lockdown has increased mental health issues. The concept of mental health existed even before the pandemic but has gained prominence due to the pandemic and 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 extent”, says Ekhanee Boruah who is an Editor.

“Mental health concerns grew dramatically as the Pandemic started to feel permanent. Working women, from the age of 23 – to their 40s reached out for psychological and emotional support. Young professionals who were beginning their work journey felt stuck in anxious thought patterns and grappling with the virtual experience of settling into a new work environment, as they’d never physically met their leaders or peers, neither could they visit their offices & doing a new job 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 a new job reached out as they wanted a therapist 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, changes in the environment & climate and the persistent pressure & 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 Covid, experiencing grief and managing fatigue, the past two years were 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 harmed many lives and women were impacted in several aspects. With the onset of the lockdown, the entire humanity was restricted inside their four walls. In terms of work, work from home started and working women shared several responsibilities. Balancing family life with work-life was not an easy task considering the majority of the women had to take care of their kids’ online classes, manage their work from home and most importantly doing household chores. While one cannot deny the support of men in doing household chores, the majority of the women had to manage all the tasks on their own without any help.

pandemic Indian females women mental health covid-19
Courtesy: Indian Express

Impact on low-income household women

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 study was concluded with support from Ford Foundation, Rohini Nilekani Philanthropies, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The research, conducted through telephonic surveys from October 20 to November 14, 2020, encapsulates their experience 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 percent of the population in low-income households across India.

Among the key findings of the study was that women made up just 24 percent of earners before the pandemic but represent 43 percent 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 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 has brought a lot of additional pressure on women. Be it a homemaker or a professional, the responsibilities to take care of household chores, office work, raising kids without any social event 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.

pandemic Indian females women mental health covid-19
Courtesy: India Today

One major section of our society that has been left out and neglected in the pandemic, consists of the women living in brothels. Sex workers have mostly been neglected by mainstream society resulting in huge mental health issues 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 for their kids. They aim to convert GB Road from a road of sex workers and slaves to ‘Pyaar Ka Mohalla‘ (A Street of Love). It provides a chance for these women to come out of their regular life of misery and oppression.

“Actually, as per my experience, this place has so much sadness, which means even if you just spend time here, the sadness starts to live inside you. In such a 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 one’s therapist and that is what we offer,” says Gitanjali Babbar, Founder of Kat-Katha.

During the pandemic, Kat-Katha organised vaccination drives for the didi’s and kids of Gb road and provided them counselling sessions.

Increase in domestic violence

The National Commission for Women (NCW) registered an increase of 94 percent in complaint cases where women were assaulted in their homes during the lockdown. Domestic violence cases were also not reported as some sections of the women did not have the facility to file a report.

According to a study by the University of California Davis, domestic violence against women has increased significantly. 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.

pandemic Indian females women mental health covid-19
Courtesy: Indian Express

Post-pandemic transitions

The pandemic has impacted the lives of innumerable people and families across the world. Lockdown has increased mental health issues. The concept of mental health existed even before the pandemic but has gained prominence due to the pandemic and accentuated cases of depression, anxiety and even suicides.

Gender diversity should be kept in mind post-pandemic. In terms of providing support, mentoring, counselling and sponsorship, women can be provided support. As many women lost their husbands due to Covid-19, support and job opportunities can be provided to such women. “The pandemic has brought about a definite change in my work pattern- from ‘all-day’ office, it has become work from home and then hybrid. I have learned to cultivate a healthy lifestyle for my mental well-being,” says Anita Joseph, Dubai based journalist.

Girl child education also needs to be reinforced as drop-outs increased due to the online mode of education and it harmed girls. Ten million girls in India could drop out of secondary school due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a Right to Education Forum policy brief. With 1.6 million girls aged 11 to 14 years currently out of school, the pandemic could disproportionately impact girls further by putting them at risk of early marriage, early pregnancy, poverty, trafficking and violence. In such circumstances, it is crucial to take immediate intervention for girls’ education.

Varalika Mishra
Varalika Mishra
is a Mental Health activist, author and a freelance journalist

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