The COVID-19 pandemic may be taking a bigger toll on women’s mental health than on men’s, new research suggests.
For the study, researchers examined the results of an online survey of 112 men and 459 women in Canada. The survey took place between March 23 and June 7, 2020.
During that time, schools and many businesses were closed, and people were told to stay home as much as possible to reduce coronavirus transmission.
More than 66% of the survey participants reported poor sleep quality and more than 39% reported worsening insomnia. All said they had increased anxiety and distress.
Sleep problems, depression and anxiety symptoms were more common in women than in men, according to the report published online recently in the journal Frontiers in Global Women’s Health.
“Generally, the study found women reporting more anxiety and depression,” said study author Veronica Guadagni, a postdoctoral scholar in the University of Calgary School of Medicine. “Their symptoms worsened over time and with greater length of the isolation period.”
Guadagni noted that there was a progressive rise in anxiety, depression, poor sleep quality and trauma for both men and women, but it was greater for women over time.
Women also reported higher scores on a scale measuring empathy, the ability to understand the emotions of others and care for them. But greater empathy was associated with greater anxiety, depression and trauma, the study authors noted in a university news release.
“I was not surprised by the findings; women are the ones who carry the additional load,” said senior investigator Giuseppe Iaria, a professor of psychology. “Taking care of family and critical situations has always been a huge load on women and females.”
Guadagni pointed out that greater empathy among women may mean they’re more likely to follow public health guidelines, such as washing hands, social distancing and wearing a mask.
“If we see that higher empathy is connected to prosocial behavior we could expect that the people who actually care more for others would be more respectful of the rules. Future studies should test this specific hypothesis,” she said.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on COVID-19 and mental health.
SOURCE: University of Calgary, news release, Dec. 22, 2020