International Women’s Day: Minding the mental health of women in the face of this pandemic

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Therapist Bernie Hackett celebrates women on IWD and reminds them that help is available.

TODAY IS INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day a day established in 1911 to celebrates women’s achievements, making their voices heard, fight against generational injustice, and fighting for gender equality both in the workplace and in the home.

It also aims to highlight issues of parity and equality between genders. IWD also highlights many of the inspirational women around the world who in face of adversity and discrimination have challenged the status quo.

The theme of this year’s day is ‘choose to challenge’ – people are being asked to challenge the status quo and question the current inequalities facing women.

Thankfully we have seen a great deal of advancement for socio-economic rights of women over the past century, in Ireland women of the age of majority have universal suffrage, property rights and greater employment opportunities.

Women can now be Chairpersons, CEOs, Astronauts and even Vice-President of the United States of America. This would have been unthinkable 100 years ago.

Small steps to giant leaps

However, there is still a great deal of inequality between the genders. These inequalities very much were highlighted by the pandemic and issues that faced women before became all too apparent during the pandemic and the resultant lockdown.

Issues such as domestic abuse, income equality, unemployment, and the burden of childcare routinely affect women more negatively than men. A recent Women’s Aid survey revealed that one in five women experience intimate relationship abuse at the hands of their partner, this is compared to one in seven men (Men’s Aid).

Domestic abuse and violence can lead to long-lasting effects on a victim’s physical and mental health and can even result in greater numbers of people experiencing poverty and homelessness.

Prior to the lockdown, the women affected by this would have a respite from the abuse by having the option to leave the house, but this is no longer the case.

My fellow IACP members have seen the effects of this, women are unlikely to avail of tele/online counselling if they feel their partner has the option to eavesdrop on the session.

This reluctance is not exclusive to women in volatile domestic situations, women who are parents may find it difficult to allow themselves to get into the reflective headspace that therapy requires when they are worried about the possibility of their child gatecrashing their session.

Women in the home during Covid

Women are historically seen as caregivers, and indeed women generally dominate the caregiving professions – Counselling and psychotherapy included – and the lockdown has only added to their already full loads.

A recent National Women’s Council of Ireland survey revealed that 85% of women found their caregiving responsibilities increased since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Many women do full shifts in caregiving roles on the frontlines and must return home to provide care for their children, and the lack of childcare provided by creches and schools has increased the pressure on these women.

This is putting women at risk of greater risk of burnout, both physically and mentally. I’m asking any women reading this who finds themselves in this situation to consider seeing a therapist.

If you are a frontline healthcare worker, over 300 of my colleagues are offering voluntary sessions – a fact of which I’m very proud. The IACP’s Public Mental Health amidst Covid-19 survey conducted by B & A also revealed that women were more affected by mental health issues than their male counterparts.

Around 30% of those surveyed often felt stress compared with 21%, 32% often feeling anxious compared with 21% and 18% often feeling lonely/isolated, compared with 14%. The CSO found similar findings in their April 2020 survey.

We’ve been seeing this in our practices over the past year, women are finding the lockdown increasingly difficult. They are cut off from their physical social support structures and families, and while video conferencing and phone calls are vital for keeping us connected, they don’t have the same positive effect on our mental health that face-to-face interaction does.

Looking forward

So this year on IWD, I would like you to consider all the ways in which women’s rights have evolved over the past century but conversely, I would also like you to keep in my mind the myriad of challenges that affect us.

Choose to challenge the status quo! Interrogate society’s treatment of women and do your best to be a positive ally for change. You can even start small and at home.

If a neighbour of yours needs help, you can offer it to them (from a safe distance of course). If you’re in a domestic partnership with a woman, speak with her and ask if there is anything you can do to lighten her workload.

If you are a woman and need help, please consider doing the same. Partnerships are a two-way street, and as much as we’d love it to be the case, our partners are not mind-readers.

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If you are dealing with something that you feel you need help with, please contact your GP or go to iacp.ie to find over 2,500 of my colleagues based nationwide.

IACP accredited counsellors and psychotherapists offer their clients the opportunity to speak their minds without fear of judgement, recrimination or reprisal and create a safe space for clients to explore their own psyches.

Bernie Hackett is an accredited member and Chair of the Irish Association for Counselling and psychotherapy (IACP).

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Our colleagues at Noteworthy want to investigate the measures being taken to tackle a pandemic-induced mental health crisis in Ireland. You can help fund them here.

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