The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone, but not everyone equally.
We know that men are more likely to suffer severe cases and die from the disease. We know that Black and Hispanic Americans have been more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as White Americans. We know that women are more likely to suffer from “long COVID-19” symptoms. We know that women have been less likely to recover jobs lost early in the pandemic.
And now we are learning about the pandemic’s toll on our country’s mental health.
In June 2020, as the pandemic’s first wave continued to spread across the country, 40 percent of adults reported struggling with mental health or substance misuse related to the pandemic, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Reports from the CDC on the prevalence of anxiety disorders and depressive symptoms were both four times greater than similar data collected the previous year. In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national mental health emergency for children and teens because of the pandemic.
Women have been more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression than men during the pandemic. This is in line with data before COVID-19 and consistent with findings that, for example, women are more likely to have reduced economic resources while also more likely to have roles as caregivers. As a consequence, women report higher rates of burnout associated with these sources of mental distress. As with impacts on already marginalized groups, the pandemic has exacerbated existing problems and disparities.
Women’s Health Research at Yale Director Carolyn M. Mazure, PhD, pioneered research on gender differences in depression, showing how stress is a more potent pathway for depression in women than in men and using these findings to develop more effective interventions.
Now WHRY is leading the way with investigations into how the specific stressors and coping strategies affect the mental health of health care workers on the front lines of COVID-19, the majority of whom are women, and how we can use these data to formulate strategies to promote resilience. We are also learning from the mental health outcomes of West Point graduates and investigating the mental health costs of the pandemic on the general population.
COVID-19 has touched all aspects of our lives. Thanks to your support, WHRY works to ensure that we understand the health — physical and mental — of women and the differences between and among women and men. Because, even as our differences matter, we all deserve the same opportunity for health and happiness.
With great appreciation for your support,
Barbara M. Riley