COVID-19 lockdowns led to increased depression and anxiety rates, along with food insecurity among women in India and other parts of the developing world, a new study found.
The research, by UC San Diego and released Thursday, examined the effects of lockdowns, which were important for preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
But there were consequences.
The study by UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy found that women whose social positions may make them more vulnerable – for instance, those with daughters and those living in female-headed households – experienced even larger declines in mental health as a result.
The study, to be published in the Journal of Development Economics, is based on research from telephone surveys with 1,545 households in various rural regions in Northern India.
The surveys were conducted in fall 2019, before the pandemic, and August 2020, near the height of the first COVID-19 wave in India.
Certain villages and districts had varying containment policies, allowing researchers to compare health outcomes of women who experienced lockdowns for several months to those who were not in lockdowns.
For the women surveyed in lockdowns, the experience is associated with a 38% increase in depression, a 44% increase in anxiety and a 73% increase in exhaustion, according to the study.
“Not having access to work and socialization outside the home can be very detrimental for women’s mental health in developing countries,” said study co-author Gaurav Khanna, an assistant economics professor.
The study also found that the pandemic “resulted in dramatic losses of income for women,” with around 25% of households reducing the number of meals consumed compared to a normal month.
The goal for researchers, Khanna said, was to determine “the impact lockdown polices have on women in lower-income countries where there may be limited social safety nets to absorb these shocks” and to direct the attention of policymakers in developing countries to the issue.
The study also made recommendations to help address the mental and physical health challenges women experienced during the pandemic.
According to the authors, policymakers “should consider what supportive measures are necessary to limit economic devastation from lockdowns and they should target aid, particularly access to food, to vulnerable households and women.”
As one example, in certain parts of India, the government distributed food to rural areas to help prevent malnutrition and food insecurity. The authors wrote that phone counseling and helpline services may also help address the pandemic’s mental health impacts.
Although the study focused on the developing world, it found implications for women everywhere experiencing lockdowns.
“When kids are not in school, or daycare, the burden usually falls on women because of traditional gender roles with child care,” Khanna said. “Policymakers should be cognizant of the fact that women are going to be impacted differently by these policies.”
– City News Service