COVID Lockdowns Had Severe Mental Stress, Food Insecurity Among Indian Women: Study

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COVID Lockdowns Had Severe Mental Stress, Food Insecurity Among Indian Women: Study

The study revealed that women whose social position could make them more vulnerable, those with daughters and those living in female-headed households, experienced even more significant declines in mental health due to lockdowns.

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Though nationwide lockdowns during the first and second waves of COVID-19 were potentially crucial to prevent the spread of the deadly infectious virus, these were associated with high rates of mental stress, including anxiety and depression.

The COVID induced lockdowns also caused food insecurity among women in India and other parts of the developing world, research has found.

The study, led by researchers at the University of California San Diego in the US, revealed that women whose social position could make them more vulnerable, those with daughters and those living in female-headed households, experienced even more significant declines in mental health due to lockdowns.

The team conducted telephonic surveys of 1,545 households across six states in North India — Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra — in August 2020, near the height of the first wave of COVID-19 in the country, Deccan Herald reported.

The findings, to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Economic Development, stated that women reported a 38 per cent rise in depression, a 44 per cent increase in anxiety and a 73 per cent rise in exhaustion.

"Having no access to work and socialisation outside home can be detrimental to women's mental health in developing nations," said Gaurav Khanna, Assistant Professor of economics at the varsity's School of Global Policy and Strategy.

Dramatic Losses Of Income

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in dramatic losses of income for women. In the survey, around 25 per cent of households reduced the number of meals consumed, compared to an ordinary month. However, these decreases primarily impacted women because in many cultures throughout the developing world, women's food intake is the first to be cut down when food is scarce.

"In our study, we found that the consequences of lockdown policies are worsened for women. We hope policymakers in developing nations and beyond know what are the implications of these policies, especially for those in vulnerable positions, because if there is another COVID wave, communities could be faced with similar lockdowns," Khanna added.

The paper also outlines policy recommendations that could help address the physical and mental health consequences experienced by women during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, in some parts of India, the government did distribute food to rural areas, which helped prevent food insecurity and malnutrition. The authors noted that counselling and helpline services offered over the phone could also help address the pandemic's mental health effects.

The findings also have implications for women all over the globe who experience lockdowns, the researchers said.

"We suspect the impact on women and mothers, in particular, in the US was also exacerbated," Khanna said.

"When children are not present in school or daycare, the burden usually falls on mothers because of traditional gender roles with child care. Policymakers should be cognisant that women are going to be affected differently by these policies," he added.

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