A Filipina American Perspective on the Mental Health Impact of COVID 19 for Women Globally and in College

Uniting Voices Worldwide to Eliminate Violence Against Women 2020

A Discussion and Call to Action on the Pandemic’s Impact on Women and Girls

November 24, 2020

By Judy Patacsil, Psy.D., Counselor/Professor and International Education Coordinator at San Diego Miramar College. At Miramar College she initiated Filipino Studies and Filipino language courses to serve the large Filipino community of San Diego. She is also a licensed psychotherapist who leads Mental Health Services at Miramar College.

Hello! Maraming Salamat which means heartfelt thanks to the Women’s Freedom Forum for the invitation for me to be a part of this esteemed panel. It is an honor to share with you a Filipina American Perspective on the mental health impact of COVID-19, for women globally and for women in college.

The impact of COVID-19 has been widely speculated. However, the anticipated impact that Covid-19 would have on people’s mental health was more recently studied. Research conducted at the University of Oxford found that nearly 1 in 5 diagnosed with COVID-19 (within 3 months), is diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Various disorders and difficulties include anxiety, depression, insomnia, isolation and thoughts of suicide. Another study published in September 2020 found that the pandemic has caused a crisis in women’s mental health. 

In the first study of its kind, non-profit international aid organization CARE spoke to over 10,000 people around the globe, in nearly 40 countries. Their goal was to look at how people were dealing with the challenges posed by COVID19. They determined that the pandemic has had an overwhelming impact on women’s mental health.

One of the biggest disparities they found in their research was that over 25% of women had reported increases in challenges in relation to mental health conditions, compared to 10% of men. They identified factors which include unpaid labor and increased responsibilities in the home, and fear of contracting COVID19. These factors increased exponentially in many cases which led to stress, worries about food, work, and health care.

Globally, Filipinos are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, especially because the Philippines is one of the world’s largest suppliers of workers including nurses, service providers, and maritime professionals.  As the pandemic of COVID19 spread across the globe, headlines revealed how the mental health of Filipina women was impacted. A female cruise ship worker/maritime professional awaiting repatriation to the Philippines was found dead in her cabin, died of an apparent suicide amid the coronavirus pandemic. A Filipina domestic worker died by suicide in Lebanon at a shelter run by the embassy. Prior to her death, the conditions at the embassy were condemned by a human rights group and recommendations were made to have available appropriate mental health support to all women and staff.

These were 2 examples of the impact of COVID19 on Filipina women globally. I will provide 2 additional examples of young college aged women who recently sought mental health counseling due to increased distress during this pandemic. One case involves a young female immigrant from the Middle East who came to the United States after an arranged marriage to a Middle Eastern American male, over 5 years older than her; and the other case involves a young Filipina female who was sexually abused by her father and then emotionally abused by relatives after arrival in the U.S.

The young Middle Eastern woman was distraught because her husband demanded that she quit college, have children and stay at home, or he threatened to send her back to her country. The young Filipina immigrant was being emotionally abused by her relatives and also threatened to be sent back to the Philippines to her sexually abusive father. Both of the college women had few resources, thoughts of suicide, and were hesitant to seek help because of the cultural and social stigma of receiving treatment.

Because the stigma of people seeking mental health treatment has such negative consequences, it is important to de-stigmatize the process and encourage help seeking behavior. Ways to end the stigma include recognizing that many of us will experience a mental health condition at some point in our lives, and to speak and act from a place of compassion and acceptance when becoming aware of a person experiencing mental health distress. This is especially important with young Filipina Americans.

Filipina youth in the United States have higher prevalence rate of suicidal ideation than other ethnic groups. Family and relationship problems are the most common causes of suicide. Filipino adolescents and youth who have witnessed parental domestic violence are also significantly more likely to report depressive symptoms, which can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Many colleges and universities throughout the United States have funded grants to work with the Office of Violence Against Women.  The grants facilitates colleges to work in collaboration with campus and community-based, culturally competent, prevention and response organizations to increase advocacy, assistance and awareness to decrease intimate partner violence and sexual assault. This grant project is providing help and hope to women at my college.

In closing, I believe the information presented today, represents a call to action for the entire global community to mount a more effective and equitable response to the mental health impact of Covid-19 on women and the need to develop an effective response to address the problem of increased suicidal thoughts for Filipinas across the globe and in the U.S.

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