New Delhi: There was a sharp rise in the rate of depression and anxiety as well as food insecurity among women in India and other parts of the developing world, said a latest research.

The study, led by researchers at the University of California San Diego in the US, found that women whose social position may make them more vulnerable – those with daughters and those living in female-headed households – experienced even larger declines in mental health due to lockdowns.

The team conducted telephonic surveys of 1,545 households across six states in Northern India–Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra, in August 2020.

The findings will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Economic Development.

According to the study, women reported a 38 per cent increase in depression, a 44 per cent increase in anxiety and a 73 per cent increase in exhaustion.

“Not having access to work and socialisation outside the home can be very detrimental for women’s mental health in developing countries,” said Gaurav Khanna, Assistant Professor of economics at the varsity’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

The pandemic resulted in dramatic losses of income for women. In the survey, roughly 25 per cent of households reduced the number of meals consumed, compared to a normal month.

However, these declines primarily impacted women because in many cultures throughout the developing world, women’s food intake is the first to be limited when food is scarce.

“We found in our study, the consequences of lockdown policies are exacerbated for women. We hope policymakers in developing countries and beyond know what the implications are for these policies, especially for those in vulnerable positions because if there is another wave, communities could be faced with similar lockdowns,” Khanna added.

The paper also outlines policy recommendations that could help address the mental and physical health consequences experienced by women during the pandemic.

For example, in certain parts of India, the government did distribute food to rural areas, which helped prevent malnutrition and food insecurity.

Counselling and helpline services offered over-the-phone can also help address the pandemic’s mental health impacts, the authors noted.

The findings also have implications for women all over the world who experience lockdowns, they said.

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