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Data from a USU study suggests the COVID-19 pandemic impacted women’s mental health at a higher rate than men.

This is because more women struggled with being “laid off or furloughed in specific industries, increased workloads, greater unpaid caregiving responsibilities from homeschooling, and childcare disruptions and elevated instances of domestic violence,” according to a statement from USU’s Utah Women and Leadership Project on the study.

Research was conducted by the founder and director as well as associate director of the project, Susan R. Madsen and Marin Christensen, respectively. Jenna Dyckman, and assistant professor with USU Extension, and Dianne McAdams-Jones, an associate professor at Utah Valley University, were additional authors on this study. The study is the final installment of a six-part series examining the pandemic’s impact on women.

In conjunction with USU Extension, an online survey was put out in January that received 3,542 responses from Utah women age 20 or older who were both unemployed or employed due to the pandemic. One third of respondents shared that they experienced mental health issues or additional stress due to the pandemic.

“Study participants told of stress, general mental health decline, anxiety, guilt and failure, burnout, fatigue, depression and loneliness,” Madsen stated. “Those are some extensive challenges. They also described indirect effects such as their work suffering, the inability to focus or be productive, feeling overwhelmed and feeling like a failure in all areas of their lives.”

No one situation caused worse issues than the other; those working from home felt a similar mental health toll as those who went into work. Respondents felt burned-out caring for children, and those without children felt isolated and lonely. Researchers were able to point out five specific categories: work pressure, the contraction and spread of COVID-19, children at home, financial instability, and status as essential workers.

More than 100 respondents spoke about direct effects on their physical health, such as contracting COVID-19, and indirect issues such as physical problems.

Christensen, who was the lead report author, said the findings showed how positive actions could support the mental and physical health of Utah women in the workforce.

“First, all women, especially women of color and those with low household income levels, need better access to mental health care to heal and thrive,” she states. “Second, we have learned that flexible/remote work options provide a healthier work/life balance, increased productivity and more time for relationships, exercise and other activities.”

While many respondents expressed pain and turmoil during the pandemic and a struggle to keep a positive outlook on the situation, 43.5% stated that the ability to work from home and more flexibility in their schedules improved their physical and mental health. Time saved from not commuting allowed time for other “valued activities.”

“I work from home now 100% of the time, and I love it! My mental and physical health are better. There is less stress, I have better eating habits, and I’m calmer. I’m also saving money by not driving and buying clothes for work,” one respondent wrote.

Madsen said research has shown that “empathetic and supportive policies attract and retain employees and increase their psychological safety, commitment to the organization and productivity,” and that by implementing policies that support Utah women, businesses, families and communities will be strengthened.

Further information about the UWLP can be found at utwomen.org.

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