A new research by Lisa Spantig and Ben Etheridge, economists at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Esssex has shown that one in three women suffered loneliness during the lockdown.
The study shows more women than men are experiencing problems with their mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic adding that it is because women are more adversely affected by social isolation during lockdown.
The study reveals that the proportion of people who are reporting that they are experiencing at least one severe underlying mental health problem has increased among both genders. Among men it has risen from 7 per cent of men before the pandemic to 18 per cent after its onset. But for women, it has risen from 11 per cent to 27 per cent.
Studies in the US and the UK have previously charted a decline in wellbeing among men and women during lockdown. Until now, economic factors have been cited as the chief reasons why more women say that their mental health has been affected by the pandemic than men.
“It’s well documented that women have drawn the short straw on several different fronts,” Etheridge said. “For example, they are more likely to have lost their jobs.”
Other possible factors include the effects that restrictions on exercise and greater demands involving childcare and domestic work have had on women.
But Etheridge said the new research showed that the biggest factor appeared to be the strain Covid-19 was placing on social relationships. “Women are more likely to report multiple numbers of close friends,” he said. The ban, until recently, on meeting people outside your own household has led to a “decline in mental wellbeing”.
More than a third of women (34 per cent) said they now sometimes felt lonely, and 11 per cent said they often felt lonely. Among men, 23 per cent were sometimes lonely while only 6 per cent were often lonely.
The research is based on online interviews with people answering the UK Household Longitudinal Study, which has allowed social scientists to track people’s mental states during lockdown.
The findings are bolstered by online data which shows that many are struggling with isolation. Results from analyses of Google trends reveal that searches involving words such as “loneliness”, “worry” and “sadness” are increasing in many countries.
Etheridge said women under the age of 30 were those whose mental health was most affected by the crisis. Men aged between 50 and 69 were the least affected.
Those who previously reported having fewer friends appear to have been less affected by the pandemic. Etheridge suggested that this may be because the new social distancing policies have not had such an impact on them.