Who could have imagined a year ago how our lives would change due to a virus? Thanks to COVID-19, millions of women have lost their jobs and their health insurance. Millions more are trying to juggle their children’s homeschooling at work. Depression, domestic violence, homelessness and food insecurity are on the rise. There has never been anything in our lives that has affected women as badly as the pandemic.
In early June, HealthyWomen conducted an online survey to get a snapshot of the impact the pandemic was having on the mental and physical health of women. Approximately 3,000 women – whites, blacks / African American (AA), Hispanic / Latino, and Asians – from across the United States responded. Many told us they were tired, lonely and depressed. They felt stressed and frustrated. They had difficulty sleeping and were generally anxious and bored. They worried about a number of things, particularly their physical health, money, access to food, and mental health.
Feeling anxious or stressed is not only uncomfortable, it can also affect your physical and mental health. Indeed, in May the United Nations declared that the coronavirus pandemic “has the seeds of a major mental health crisis”. And our study found that one in five respondents had concerns about their mental health since their community or state began social distancing.
Changes in income, job
The pandemic has devastated the US economy. In early June, when our survey was conducted, the country’s unemployment rate was 13%, and in some regions of the country it was 20% or more.
Thirty-one percent of our respondents said that their employment status has changed negatively or that their income has fallen since the start of the pandemic. Six percent of all women were permanently laid off; 10% were temporarily dismissed / on leave; and 11% had cut their hours.
Health care during the pandemic
When the pandemic broke out, most states limited personal medical interactions, including elective surgery and routine health care, to maintain hospital capacity and equipment for COVID-19 cases.
In our survey, around a third of women were looking for treatment for a physical problem other than COVID-19, while 8% said they needed mental health services. Around half (53%) said it was easy to get care and / or advice, while 26% said it was difficult to find care. This is similar to the results of the U.S. census, which found that on July 16, 2020, about one in three adults (32%) in the United States reported needing medical care for something unrelated to COVID-19 but it did not receive this.
In our survey, this inability to find care was compounded in the Black / AA community. Black / AA women were much more likely to report difficulty finding care (35%) than white and Hispanic / Latin American women (22% and 27%, respectively).
Half of our respondents who were able to receive care did so through telemedicine. In our survey, this was defined as health care provided through phone calls, video conferencing, chat, texts or a health portal. While virtual doctor visits were gaining ground prior to the pandemic, especially in underserved and rural areas, their growth was slowed by a lack of insurance reimbursements and the challenges of implementing such systems in health organizations.
Our survey found that roughly one in four women had used telemedicine for themselves or their families before COVID-19. Among these, Black / AA and Hispanic / Latin American women used telemedicine most frequently (33% and 42%, respectively). Forty-two percent of respondents said they are likely or highly likely to make a telemedicine appointment within the next six months. That number rose to nearly half for Black / AA and Hispanic / Latin American women.
Eleven percent of participants said they need to look for possible COVID-19 symptoms while their state is quarantined. However, that number was significantly higher in the Black / AA and Hispanic / Latino communities. 19% of Black / AA and 22% of Hispanic / Latino attendees scheduled an appointment during the pandemic to manage possible COVID-19 symptoms.
An overview of the pandemic
Our survey provided a snapshot of the problems women faced in early summer related to COVID-19. As with anything related to this pandemic, many questions remain unanswered as we near the one-year limit. However, the information in the HealthyWomen survey provides a starting point for the important discussions policymakers need to have in order to drive the new normal.