National Women’s Health Week is upon us—a time to raise awareness about steps women can take to improve their health. The week serves as a reminder for women to make their overall wellbeing a priority, which is especially important true during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mental health plays an essential role in a person’s overall wellbeing, and a recent poll shows that stress caused by the coronavirus may be taking a greater toll on women’s mental health than on men’s. Of the women who responded, 53% said that coronavirus-related stress has had a negative impact on their mental health, compared to 37% of men. That difference rises to 25% when comparing mothers of children under 18 to fathers (57% vs. 32%).
Aside from the pandemic, research shows that women are already more likely than men to experience mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. For women who have a diagnosed mental health condition, the stress associated with the coronavirus outbreak may exacerbate their symptoms.
So, what can we do? Our clinical team offered these suggestions that health plans may use to encourage members to reduce stress and take care of their mental health:
- Taking walks – It is important for people to take time every day to go outside and get fresh air, while being sure to follow social distancing guidelines. Whether the walk is 10 minutes or 30 minutes, setting up a routine that keeps people active and safely engaged with the outside world is good for both physical and mental health.
- Setting work boundaries – If working, it’s a good idea to unplug at the end of the day. Whether on the front lines or working at home, setting boundaries is vital for mental health.
- Maintaining a healthy diet – Sticking to a regular eating schedule maintains structure. Extra time at home can make it tempting to snack more often, but adding more food to a regular diet can be negative for physical and mental health in the long run.
- Getting a good night’s sleep – Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and getting 8 hours of sleep is key for mental health. If someone is no longer going to work in the morning, it can be easy to go to sleep later, knowing that there is no commute. But staying up later can affect health and productivity.
- Staying connected – Calling, texting, or emailing loved ones and healthcare professionals regularly helps to maintain social connections. Loneliness and depression can creep up during times of isolation, so daily communication with your network is key.
- Continuing to take medication – If someone is already taking medication to treat a mental health condition, such as an antidepressant, it is vital to keep taking it exactly as prescribed. A changed schedule can make it easier to forget to take a medication. Setting up reminders can help, if necessary.
- Continuing talk therapy – If someone was in psychotherapy before the pandemic, it’s important to continue that relationship through telehealth, if possible. Maintaining the support of a mental health provider is especially needed during times of upheaval.
By continuing to engage members through health promotion, it is possible to maintain population health management strategies during the pandemic.
Women’s Mental Health on a Population Level
While the coronavirus outbreak is directly causing millions worldwide to develop COVID-19, the secondary effects of the pandemic, such as stress-induced mental health symptoms, are also important to address. With people out of jobs, living in isolation, taking on caretaking roles, and experiencing sustained feelings of fear, these mental health impacts have large-scale implications on population health outcomes.
Additionally, while maintaining psychotherapy through telehealth may be a good option for some people, others do not have the availability or privacy to have a phone call with a therapist at their homes and may cancel appointments. Effective population health management programs can anticipate this drop-off and remind members to reschedule their mental health appointments once they are able to safely do so. These reminders also apply to other critical women’s health appointments that have had to be delayed, such as physicals, breast exams, and chronic care management support.
As time goes on, engaging targeted populations, such as women struggling with mental health concerns, is key for curbing long-term secondary impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.