By Pam Dewey • mental health, young women and mental health, young women of color and mental health, pandemic and mental health, young people mental health, young women caregiving, young women's mental health • November 04, 2021
You’ve likely heard how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women. More women have lost their jobs. Women are more likely to be shouldering the caregiving burden. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research states, “Between February and May, 11.3 million women lost their jobs compared with 9.2 million men.”
And for young women, particularly women of color, the negative impact of the pandemic is even worse. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research states, “Young women (aged 16 to 24) were more likely to lose their job than young men and workers of other age groups in the initial months of the pandemic recession, largely due to their concentration in industries and occupations that have been hit the hardest by the economic downturn.” Additionally, “Among young women, Black and Latina women were more likely to be unemployed than white women during the pandemic.”
Part of the reason more young women lost their jobs was because of the industries they work in. But the answer isn’t quite so simple, and the impact on these young women is complex and serious.
Young women are more often caretakers
Though many young women were laid off during the pandemic, others have been forced to leave their jobs. Young women are more likely to take on caretaking responsibilities in their families. They pitch in to care for their siblings, cousins or even older family members. It happens for many reasons: loss of childcare, distance learning or the declining health or death of family members.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 13.1% of young Black women and 11.5% of Latina women are “not working for pay due to care responsibilities.” These women of color make up the two largest groups of young people who aren’t in the workforce because they work as caretakers.
The New York Times shares the story of 15-year-old Azariah Baker, who “has been caring for her 70-year-old grandmother, who had a stroke at the start of 2020, as well as her 2-year-old niece.” Azariah has also been involved in the social justice movement in Chicago.
The Times quotes Azariah as saying, “The reality is that a large portion of the time, I’m not OK. There’s a part of me that wants to have fun and be a kid and take up space.” But her many commitments leave little time for fun.
This extends to community care work
Young women do more than just care for their families, particularly young women of color. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research points out there is a lot of “unpaid, nonmarket work that women perform collectively to address urgent community needs that arise out of racial and ethnic group disparities.”
Azariah was compelled to get involved in the racial justice movement last summer, and with some friends, “brainstormed practical solutions to systemic inequality and realized that the recent closure of a local grocery store during the pandemic meant that their neighborhood had limited access to fresh food.” With the help of a nonprofit, Azariah and her friends opened a fresh produce market in her neighborhood, which she and her friends help staff.
Along with school and taking care of her grandmother and niece, Azariah also uplifts her neighborhood and ensures her neighbors have access to fresh, healthy food.
Affecting young women’s mental health
But all of this caretaking takes a toll. According to the CDC, during February and March 2021, suspected suicide attempts, which resulted in a trip to the emergency room, “were 50.6% higher among girls aged 12-17 years than during the same period in 2019.” A June 2021 study of over 2,000 young people by America’s Promise Alliance found, “72% report a poor or decreased sense of mental health in the past 30 days.” The study also reported, “compared to male students, female students were almost twice as likely and non-binary youth were six times more likely to cite feelings of poor or reduced mental health in the past 30 days.” It manifested as difficulty concentrating, losing sleep and feeling depressed.
The arrival of the vaccines hasn’t quite signaled an end to the pandemic as many hoped. For these young women, many of these conditions will continue to be a reality. So what can be done to help them?
Investing in mental health care for all
Experts believe investing in mental health services specifically targeted to young people is a step in the right direction. That means increasing access, particularly in communities where mental healthcare options are limited. Fraser offers many mental health therapies through telehealth, which helps reach people who have limited access in their communities. Fraser also partners with several area schools to provide therapy services to young people at school.
Some young people and their families cannot afford the cost of therapy, so offering more subsided options for services will help bridge this gap. For those don’t have insurance or if their insurance doesn’t cover services, Fraser does offer a sliding scale for fees. To apply, you must complete an application, which includes providing financial information. Here are also another couple Minnesota organizations that provide discounted therapy services.