By Vishali Balasubramaniam
As new cases of COVID-19 pop up, it is easy to get swept up into studying the science of transmission, being cautious with physical distancing, and wiping down every apple from the grocery store. I too, out of concern for my health and the health of the loved ones I am living with, had been overwhelmed and blindsided by similar worries. However, through conversations with colleagues, exposure to news articles and some deep thought, I came to the understanding that COVID-19 does not impact everyone equally . This disease does discriminate. It discriminates on a variety of factors, including co-morbidity, income, and gender. It is not an equalizer.
Women seem to have an infectious and immunological advantage, as studies done in Wuhan suggest they are less likely to get infected and more likely to gain immunity post-exposure . However, it is important that we do not neglect the other facets of health, namely mental health. Polls conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation highlighted how COVID-19 disproportionately negatively impacts women . Based on the poll’s findings women are more likely to worry about family members getting sick as well as loss of income. Despite this, a larger proportion of women continue to go to work, as they cannot afford to stay home . These findings demonstrate that COVID is not an equalizer as its impact varies by gender and by financial stability. The choice to stay home from work (to avoid potential exposure to the virus) is largely based on an financial stability, as well as work benefits such as paid sick leave and vacation days.
Particularly concerning is that more women believe their COVID related fears and stress have had a major negative impact on their mental health . At a time where non-COVID related and non-essential healthcare workers are working from home or not working entirely, it may be increasingly difficult to connect these women with the proper mental health supports. The lack of therapeutic intervention may in turn lead to exacerbations or adverse outcomes down the road.
Now that we have established that COVID impacts men and women differently, what can we do to help? While many of us may not be trained psychiatrists or psychologists, we can use our increased awareness to check in on the women (and men) in our lives. We can call or video chat to see how they are managing at home and to provide some reprieve. If we suspect further intervention is needed, we can also help connect them with online support systems. These resources include: Assaulted Women’s Helpline, Sheltersafe.ca, 211 Ontario, ConnexOntario Helpline, amongst others.
Further details can be found at: https://www.covidwi.com/get-help.
- Public Health Agency of Canada. (2020, April 17). Epidemiological summary of COVID-19 cases in Canada. Retrieved from https://health-infobase.canada.ca/covid-19/epidemiological-summary-covid-19-cases.html#a3
- Thomala, L. L. (2020, April 3). China: gender distribution of novel coronavirus patients 2020. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1095039/china-gender-distribution-of-wuhan-coronavirus-covid-19-patients/
- Frederiksen, B., Gomez, I., Salganicoff, A., & Ranji, U. (2020, March 20). Coronavirus: A Look at Gender Differences in Awareness and Actions. Retrieved from https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/issue-brief/coronavirus-a-look-at-gender-differences-in-awareness-and-actions/