A Doctor’s Account of the Effect of Lockdown on Women’s Mental Health

Dr Bella Smith, a GP from Suffolk, has written a moving piece in the Telegraph on the impact of the Government’s lockdowns on women’s mental health.

As a GP in a small market town in Suffolk – with a special interest in women’s health – I have seen the impact of lockdown first hand. 

For many, it has been a highly stressful time – childcare, home schooling and housework have automatically landed back in the laps of women, in addition to many of them having to work from home. 

In the past few months particularly, I’ve noticed a high number of consultations regarding mental health, with anxiety levels among both adults and children going through the roof. One 35 year-old woman I spoke to described her home as “a pressure pot with no time, no help, no space, no privacy, with bored, anxious children who are climbing the walls from so much screen time”.

Many of us have experienced bereavements during lockdown, and for some they have been both traumatic and multiple. We must not underestimate the knock-on effect this may have for years to come. I spoke to a patient just last week who told me about her mother, who died a year ago from Covid; she had to say goodbye to her on an iPad. 

It became clear that she had been carrying a huge burden of responsibility, caring not only for her own parents, but also her in-laws, in addition to running her own household and keeping her family’s health in check. She was only now, a year later, getting round to seeking help for her own emotional issues – and some of her own medical concerns – because she had prioritised other members of her family ahead of her own. 

Dr Smith explains that the fear of catching Covid has prevented many women from seeking medical help for potentially serious issues.

[A] patient I have recently seen has been experiencing post-menopausal bleeding for three months without contacting the surgery. This can be a sign of a gynaecological cancer and must not be ignored. When we spoke, she told me she knew something was wrong but was so frightened of the risk of getting Covid if she had to attend the hospital for investigations that she chose to wait.

Statistics show a worrying number of women are overdue their smear tests or mammograms. A recent survey by the Eve Appeal showed that in the last 12 months 28% of women called for the cervical screening had not attended and were not intending to due to worrying about Covid.

Dr Smith is right to highlight the impact of the fear of catching Covid on the willingness of people to seek help for medical problems, and on mental health. This, according to a letter published today by the British Medical Journal, has been caused in part by the “poor and unbiased reporting” of daily death statistics by the press.

Worth reading in full.

Stop press: New research commissioned by the Telegraph for International Woman’s Day shows that 49% of working mothers believe their mental health has been negatively impacted by the Government’s lockdowns.

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