Addressing the hidden mental health hurdles faced by mothers in a socioeconomically disadvantaged situation.
What the pandemic has clearly shown us in North America is two-fold. One, inequality is clear, with the most vulnerable among us being the most disadvantaged. Two, the secondary mental health pandemic has serious consequences.
In this two-part article, we are going to touch on how the pandemic has affected certain groups of mothers – BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) mothers, essential workers, and front-line healthcare workers.
In part one, we opened with refreshing ourselves why it is important to take maternal mental health seriously. Read about that here.
A brief look at the added mental health load on essential workers and their families:
In a recent article, critical care physician Dr. Kali Barrett, at the University Health Network in Toronto, member of the Science Advisory Table Secretariat and COVID-19 Modelling Collaborative, told CBC that intensive care unit beds are being filled at increasing rates by essential workers and their families.
This comes as no surprise as Dr. Barrett warned of this already in an earlier interview, stating that the effects of the pandemic [in Ontario] are ‘catastrophic.’ Dr. Barrett warned that the province would experience the effects of what had be predicted as early as February, when new variants were identified.
She goes on to emphasise how the most vulnerable in our society are being affected disproportionately.
Workers that live from paycheque to paycheque have no choice, no sick leave and have to go to work. Individuals who contract COVID can in turn infect their families, exponentially pushing the uptick of COVID cases.
Barrett says, “It is affecting the most vulnerable in our society. It is infecting those with the least social capital … those with the least amount of representation in cabinet and in government, and it’s completely unmasked the inequities in our society.”
Disparity in infection rates and vaccination efforts
In Scarborough, Ontario, there are reports of COVID affecting a higher number of lower-income, high-diversity neighbourhoods. Entire multigenerational families, factory workers and essential workers have been admitted to hospital. Even vaccination programs have shown lower income areas ‘postal codes have lagged behind, compared to wealthier parts of the city in vaccination rates.
Strain on Pregnant Women and Families
This puts an additional physical and mental strain on pregnant women and parents, if they or a household member are essential workers. In our research, we have found that women are most at risk for anxiety and/or depression during pregnancy. This is made doubly hard with worry over the pandemic – even more so if their risk is increased due to serving as an essential worker.
Radhika Gandhi who lost her father – an essential worker – to COVID-19, says, “We don’t need empty promises about paid sick leave. We need sick leave. We need legislation that holds employers accountable for paying employees for paid sick leave. We don’t need a temporary solution. This needs to be implemented for the long run. Our essential workers have been neglected for far too long. And we need to act now.”
Dr. Barrett puts it this way, “I do believe that we need to remember as a society, we can help our businesses recover, we will help rebuild economy. But when you are dead, you are gone forever. We have to give people the support they need so they can protect themselves and the loved ones that they live with.”
Struggling Healthcare Providers
It’s not just essential workers without paid sick leave that are struggling.
In her interview, Dr. Barrett talks about the very real possibility for physicians to be faced with the difficulty of being called upon to triage patients. She warns that if that happens, people will burn out and quit the medical profession.
It is worth bearing in mind that many essential workers in healthcare are also mothers. There is the added mental strain of trying to protect their own children as well as the exhaustion of fighting COVID. In a time like this, how are they being supported?
If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. Start here with our mental health resources:
 CBC News, ‘Brampton, Ont., teen among youngest Canadians to die with COVID-19,’ 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/covid-19-claims-teenagers-life-1.6002023
 CBC News, ‘Ontario doctor describes how COVID-10 ‘catastrophe’ is affecting most vulnerable,’ 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo7g83bIqAY
 CBC News, ‘Ontario’s latest COVID-19 modelling ‘catastrophic,’ doctor says,’ 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-pandemic-projections-1.5990969
 Lauren Pelley, ‘Critical Condition,’ 2021, News interactives – CBC, https://newsinteractives.cbc.ca/longform/critical-condition-inside-a-toronto-hospital-network-during-the-third-wave-of-covid19
Katherine DeClerq, ‘Revised COVID-19 timeline shows Ontario essential workers being vaccinated mid-May,’ 2021, CTV News, https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/revised-covid-19-timeline-shows-ontario-essential-workers-being-vaccinated-mid-may-1.5375962
 CBC News, ‘Daughter who lost dad to COVID-19 urges Ontario to close workplaces in outbreak across province,’ 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/daughter-father-covid-19-temporary-workplace-shutdowns-outbreak-1.6001541