There is no better time than Women’s History Month to examine the issues women are facing as this pandemic hits its one year mark. From stress to screenings, it is so important that women’s unique health needs are met and identified during these hard times.
Loss of employment and insurance
Women have been disproportionately affected by job loss during the pandemic, with 5.4 million jobs lost among women, compared to 4.4 million lost by men. Add in the racial disparities as BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) women have left the job market at higher rates than their white counterparts, and you have a recipe for lower earnings and higher rates of unemployment. This equates to poorer access to healthcare at a time when it is even more important to be able to access a doctor if needed.
Decrease in routine screenings
Cancer, high blood pressure, and other conditions do not take a break during a pandemic. Unfortunately, when many offices and hospitals limited access when the pandemic first began, diagnoses and treatments were delayed. And while many facilities are open for business as usual now, the fear of catching COVID-19 from a doctor’s office has kept many women at home. One study showed an 80 percent decrease in cervical cancer screenings during California’s stay-at-home order, and this is but one example of delays in care—and potentially increased morbidity and mortality—that we can attribute to the pandemic.
More alcohol consumption
Studies have shown that Americans are drinking more since the pandemic began, and women are outpacing the men. Heavy drinking (four or more drinks in a two-hour period) by women has increased remarkably by 41 percent. Isolation, stress, and mental health needs are likely contributing factors.
Uptick in substance use
With the stress of the pandemic, those in recovery or addiction programs have struggled as treatment centers have closed or limited services. The CDC reported the highest number of opioid overdoses resulting in death in 2020, with the biggest increase seen from March to May of 2020—coinciding with the beginning of the pandemic. Women are certainly not immune to this, and with the stress of balancing home, work, and schooling, they are at particular risk.
Mental health needs
Women are reporting higher rates of anxiety and depression as compared to men since the pandemic began, with one study showing 44 percent of women surveyed reporting one of these symptoms. Higher rates of unemployment and job insecurity coupled with lower-paying jobs, increased responsibility at home, and homeschooling are resulting in a mental health crisis for our nation’s women. These rates are even higher in BIPOC populations. This comes at a time when accessing mental health care is often challenging due to long wait times, as many therapists are overburdened with patients.
This pandemic has made it obvious that we need better access to affordable childcare and healthcare, coupled with improved job security and fair wages for the segment of the population who makes this nation run. If you are providing healthcare to women at this time, it is critical to screen for anxiety, depression, suicidality, substance use disorders, intimate partner violence, and food insecurity.
Use of telemedicine can help you reach out to women who are too busy right now to access care in the offices. During these visits, you can emphasize the importance of routine screenings and work with your patient to ensure she prioritizes her health and advocate that she be seen when needed.
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