The mental health toll of unpaid care

Font Size:

The coronavirus pandemic led to unprecedented health, economic and social disruption in 2020.

With the impact of COVID-19 anticipated to be felt for years to come, many public health researchers have turned their attention to the mental health consequences of the pandemic.

Research identifying the most affected groups is important. So, too, is looking in detail at these groups to try to explain why they may be more exposed than others.

Our Global and Women’s Health unit investigates health and wellbeing through a gender lens, as well as through a social determinants of health framework. These terms of reference have been vital in assessing the mental health impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sex and age differences

Research conducted by our team, which was published recently in BMJ Open, identified the sex and age differences in clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety among adults in Australia during the first month of COVID-19-related restrictions. We also investigated the factors associated with these differences.

The data were collected through an anonymous online survey launched four days after significant restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19 were mandated in Australia.

From the sample of more than 13,800 people from all states and territories, we found that women were more likely than men to have clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety, and to report irritability.

Unpaid work caring for children increased the risk of depression and anxiety for women aged over 50. Caring for dependent relatives contributed significantly to the risk of symptoms of depression and anxiety and reported irritability in all groups.

Data analysis confirmed that women were more likely than men to be doing unpaid work caring for children and dependent relatives, and that this made significant contributions to the mental health outcomes of interest.

Disproportionate burden of unpaid caregiving

Rather than being intrinsically more vulnerable to mental health problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, the higher risk of clinically significant symptoms of anxiety and depression among women may in part be explained by their disproportionate burden of unpaid caregiving.

The unpaid work of caring for children and dependent relatives is disproportionately carried by women.

In 2015, women in Australia did 11.5 hours per week more unpaid labour than men. In response to the pandemic, many disability services became restricted or unavailable. This may have increased the burden of caring, and contributed to the poorer mental health of people caring for dependent relatives.

Adult children returning to the nest

Although living with family members was protective against symptoms of depression for all groups, it increased the risk of anxiety in women over 50.

In addition, it increased the risk of reported irritability for women of all ages, but not for men. A possible explanation for these findings is that many young people who lost employment during COVID-19 restrictions became unable to pay their rent, and therefore returned to the family home.

A recent survey revealed that 26 per cent of households in Australia have an adult child living at home. Of those households, 21 per cent have an adult child who has returned home because of COVID-19.

The work of re-establishing expectations of how to live together may have been largely carried by women, which may have contributed to their higher risk of anxiety and irritability.

Women with younger children not as affected

Whereas caring for children contributed significantly to symptoms of depression and anxiety in women aged over 50, in younger women it reduced the risk, and it had no effect on the mental health of men.

Younger women are likely to have younger children than older women, and they may be easier to manage at home than adolescents and young adults.

The restrictions-related changes in the caring responsibilities of women with young dependent children may have been less dramatic than for those with adolescents or young adult children.

The strain of being confined at home, managing the needs of adolescents or young adults undertaking remote learning, or who may have lost their job, might explain the increased risk of symptoms of depression and anxiety in women aged over 50.

Public health strategies needed for recovery

Our findings reinforce the need for public health strategies to help affected groups recover from the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Approaches such as those set out in the United Nations’ COVID-19 mental health policy brief can assist in addressing the monumental challenges billions of people have been required to face in 2020 in an attempt to arrest the spread of COVID-19.

The rapid implementation of a three-pronged strategy that facilitates whole-of-society approaches to supporting mental health, the widespread availability of mental health and psychosocial support, and a commitment to building mental health services for the future will underpin the mental health recovery from COVID-19.

This article was first published on Monash Lens. Read the original article

Are you a carer? Has the pandemic heaped more pressure on your everyday life? How are you coping with this?

If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.

Join YourLifeChoices today
and get this free eBook!

Join
By joining YourLifeChoices you consent that you have read and agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy

RELATED LINKS

New melanoma treatment a game-changer in cancer therapy

Australian doctors report a major breakthrough using immunotherapy.

Easy ways to boost your energy if you're feeling sluggish

Here are 10 pick-me-ups for when you're feeling tired.

Are egg yolks actually bad for you?

Eggs have been demonised by the health-food industry in the past.

Written by Monash Lens

Through compelling story-telling and expert commentary framed by current affairs, Lens aims to bring into sharp focus the work being undertaken by our research and academic communities and the impact that work is having on a global scale.

1 Comments

Total Comments: 1
  1. 0
    0

    the government has for a long long time been destroying the mental and physical health of what is called ” unpaid carers” we aren’t recognized as workers we dont have any rights or anyone to fight for them even one lawyer i know of turned me as a carer down for legal help because I’m a carer. we are currently Paid 3.50 an hour , no superannuation no nothing. many if their caring days end , end up facing homelessness. I have been a carer for the most part of 40 years and at the age of 60 i am becoming disabled ( while still caring )


FACEBOOK COMMENTS



SPONSORED LINKS

continue reading

Health

How to … fall back asleep

Waking up at night and struggling to get back to sleep can be stressful and exhausting. According to WebMB, around...

Uncategorized

Curing the incurable: Why some patients make astounding recoveries

As a GP and someone who works in the holistic health field, Dr Jerry Thompson has long been interested in...

Uncategorized

The 'ism' that's rife and no, it's not okay

Ageism, like all 'isms', creates a social hierarchy and disadvantages people based on an aspect of their diversity. Compared to...

Community

When conversations become a competition

Australia has a well-deserved reputation for being a very competitive nation on the world stage. Perhaps it dates back to...

Uncategorized

Wakey wakey - a history of alarm clocks

Matthew S. Champion, Australian Catholic University Australians are returning to our normal rhythms. The first beats of the day are...

Resources

The top-selling-souvenir from every country in the world

Do you buy souvenirs to remember your overseas holidays? If so, we imagine you have been looking at these very...

COVID-19

ACCC to keep a keen eye on travel issues this year

Australia's consumer watchdog expects to have its hands busy dealing with COVID-affected travel complaints this year. In his annual address...

Australia

Cruisers turn to superyachts to satisfy their cruise cravings

Typically, Australia is one of, if not, the biggest cruise market in the world. It wasn't so long ago that...

LOADING MORE ARTICLE...