Utah women’s mental health hit hardest during COVID-19, USU study finds

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(Courtesy of Utah State University)

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UTAH (ABC4) – As families struggle to overcome the setbacks brought on by COVID-19, studies show the pandemic affected Utah women’s mental health the hardest.

A Utah State University study shows that Utah women have disproportionately struggled with the onslaught of challenges produced by the pandemic.

For the study, USU conducted an online survey back in January that was completed by 3,542 Utah women aged 20 and up, who were either currently employed or unemployed due to the pandemic.

Nearly one-third of respondents mentioned a mental health toll and/or felt additional stress during the pandemic, the study finds.

Some key aspects that tip the scales disproportionately toward women include being laid off or furloughed at higher rates than men, more childcare responsibilities and distractions (especially when working from home), and heightened instances of domestic violence from abusive partners.

“Study participants told of stress, general mental health decline, anxiety, guilt and failure, burnout, fatigue, depression, and loneliness,” says Susan Madsen, founding director of the UWLP and one of four authors of the report. “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.”

The women who reported an acute decline in mental health came from all walks of life and various circumstances, the study finds.

“For example, those working from home felt a mental health toll, as did those who went into the office,” the study continues. “Respondents caring for children felt burned out and overwhelmed, while those without children felt isolated and lonely.”

The five most overwhelming stressors affecting Utah women are work pressure, contracting and spreading COVID-19, children at home, financial instability, and having to work essential jobs.

While mental health was one struggle, 114 respondents also reported a physical toll including contracting the virus along with physical deterioration from overall lack of physical exercise and overall movement.

Although women struggled throughout the pandemic, women without stressors such as children or abusive home situations reported an uptick in positive effects, mostly due to working from home.

“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,” explains Marin Christensen, associate director of UWLP and the study’s lead author. “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.”

Researchers say Utah companies should consider offering a work-from-home option to encourage better mental health and work-life balance. About 43.5% of respondents say working from home allowed more productivity, flexibility, and better use of time saved from not commuting.

“State and local governments can implement policies that support Utah women in terms of childcare, flexible work arrangements, and family leave policies,” Christensen says. “This will, in turn, strengthen our businesses, families, and communities.”

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