There’s a “triple load” women are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report on mental health out this week: paid work, care work and the mental labour of worrying.
Each of these loads is a full-time job, requiring resources and access to support networks — but they’re currently jobs that are simply being done by millions of women across the country whilst in lockdown. They’re working the tripple from their own homes and with no physical access to the village that may typically support them during out-of-lockdown times.
GenVic’s latest research, in partnership with 11 women’s health organisations and featuring interviews with more than 100 women, delivers a number of key concerns as well as recommendations on women’s health during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
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It highlights how the triple load, as well as how other forms of inequality and discrimination — racism, ageism, economic inequality etc — are compounding into significant mental health impacts. They find that these impacts can exacerbate reoccurring and existing conditions, and impede recovery of other conditions.
The report pulls on Victorian Population Survey data that finds Victorian women during lockdowns are more significantly likely than men to feel nervous (40% compared with 30%), lonely (28% compared with 16%) and ‘that everything was an effort’ (30% compared with 22%).
The report also notes that 35% of women (compared with 19% of men) have moderate to severe levels of depression during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as 27% who report moderate to severe levels of stress (just 10% for men), and a very concerning 37% of women aged 18 to 24 have had suicidal thoughts, compared with 17% of men.
These figures are given amidst other important data points, including the 55% of job losses during COVID-19 that were held by women and the concerning economic security impacts ahead, with women accessing their superation early at higher rates than men. Women have also taken on the majority of essential work roles, which also happen to be some of the lowest-paid jobs.
Women interviewed for the report talked about the “4 to 6 hours of extra time” they took on during lockdowns, the responsibility they felt for the mental health of friends, and the need to work in the middle of the night just to find some space, among many other things.
They spoke about an increase in household duties, the additional needs and support required for caring for people with a disability or having a disability themselves.
So what needs to be done?
GenVic’s report shares a number of recommendations on what more needs to be done. While it’s specific to Victoria, it’s clear these recommendations can apply to other parts of the country also. Given the rolling lockdowns still occurring in the state, it’s also clear that the pandemic is far from over and much more needs to be done to support the mental health and wellbeing of women, girls and gender diverse people.
The 24 recommendations include:
- Funding for ongoing support for women’s health must be a priority.
- Loneliness is a big issue, so it is important to address the daily isolation and loneliness that can result from working from home, caring and being responsible for additional household labour.
- Government support payments must be made accessible to migrant and refugee women to protect women and their children from poverty and serious mental health issues.
- Funding for Family Violence prevention and response is needed to make sure women and children are able to leave violence safely.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities should have the rights and funding to self-determine health and welfare needs throughout communities.
- LGBTIQ/trans/gender identity training needed for health services to ensure appropriate and safe provision of services.
- Free or subsidised childcare necessary.
- Access to disability support services must be made more accessible and equitable for women living with disability. Many women with disability struggled to access supports throughout the pandemic, or found their necessary services were deemed non-essential during lockdowns.
- Ongoing emotional, mental health support and counselling.
- Waitlists should be revised and adjusted to avoid long wait times.
- Continued secure housing.
- Vocational counselling and financial planning to help women ‘pivot’ to new careers or working arrangements after the pandemic.
- Changes to supports must be clarified and communicated effectively.
- Information about restrictions, financial aid and supports must be made accessible to all, especially women who speak languages other than English.
- Definitions and ideas around care work should expand to include community responsibilities.
- Value the essential services provided by those working in the feminised health, social assistance and education sectors, including by increasing pay equity.
- Address gender norms and practices that harm women’s mental health, for example rigid gender stereotypes that underpin the division of household labour and the undervaluing of unpaid care work.
- Ensure the universal public health approach is gender-responsive, enabling women to access mental health information, online resources, helplines and support that best meet their needs, when and where they need it, including by resourcing both generalist mental health helplines and specialist agencies such as PANDA.
- Retain extension of the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) to cover telehealth consultations for mental health and increase access and affordability by increasing the Medicare rebate, as well as providing a diversity of support options for those unable to use telehealth.
- Expand the support available through Mental Health Treatment Plans under Medicare to address the anticipated increase in people needing support for mild to moderate mental health issues.
- Support perinatal mental health by expanding access to appropriate, affordable support services for women during pregnancy and after a baby’s birth.
- Create clear pathways to care for people with pre-existing mental health conditions who are not able to self-manage during the COVID-19 response and recovery, strengthening and making use of the full suite of outreach, community-based and home-based health and support options to prevent entry to acute care.
- Provide specialised and targeted mental health support for those experiencing compound trauma from multiple emergencies/disasters, such as bushfire and drought.
- Provide additional financial, practical and mental health support for carers.
Check out the full GenVic report here.