A longitudinal study of frontline health care providers caring for patients with COVID-19 during the pandemic in New York City found a gender-specific risk for chronic stress-related psychological symptoms (SRPS). In assessing mental health risk factors and symptoms of major depressive, generalized anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorders, women were more than twice as likely to screen positive for one or more of these disorders relative to men (18.7% vs. 8.8%) over the 8-month study period.
However, this gender difference was fully explained by women being in lower occupational roles such as nursing, having higher rates of pre-pandemic burnout, and experiencing greater co-occurring family- and work-related stressors during the pandemic.
The researchers indicate that the findings point to the importance of recognizing gender inequities in work settings and home-based caregiving responsibilities that incur ongoing levels of stress and may increase the likelihood of chronic distress when assessing responses to a new stressor.
The study was led by Yale researchers from the Department of Psychiatry and the School of Public Health – Rachel Hennein, MD, PhD candidate ‘24, Sarah Lowe, PhD, Carolyn M. Mazure, PhD, and Robert H. Pietrzak, PhD, MPH in collaboration with investigators at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. It was conducted during the initial peak of COVID-19 cases in April 2020 and during a secondary rise in cases in December 2020. The published work appears in the June 2023 issue of Journal of Psychiatric Research.
This research was funded by the Wendy U. and Thomas C. Naratil Pioneer Award from Women’s Health Research at Yale and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.