[4 MIN READ | 50 MIN LISTEN]
In this article:
- Women continue to face mental health challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The pandemic challenged support structures for many new mothers.
- Three women’s health experts from Providence share their perspectives on how to help women stay healthy and well.
From concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic to helping kids navigate mental health challenges to annual screenings, this virtual panel discussion takes on some timely health and wellness issues facing women. In this conversation, hosts Tanya Rad, Teddi Mellencamp and Cheryl Burke gather important medical insights from three Providence doctors, including:
- Dr. Robin Henderson, Chief Executive, Behavioral Health for Providence Oregon and Chief Clinical Officer, Work2BeWell
- Dr. Nwando Anyaoku, Chief Health Equity Officer, Swedish Health Services (a Providence affiliate)
- Dr. Angela Nishio, Medical Director for Women’s Health Services at Providence St. John’s
These three Providence caregivers demonstrate what makes Providence a world-class health partner. Our caregivers take the time to see patients as individuals and partner with them to help patients live the life they deserve. “Our mission is health for good and that grounds us in the way we deliver care everywhere, especially focusing on the poor and vulnerable,” explains Dr. Anyaoku.
You can watch the full conversation directly below or scroll down to learn about some of the highlights.
The COVID-19 pandemic left many women with lingering concerns about their overall wellness, mental health and motherhood. When we have unanswered questions, those concerns can easily grow into fears. Those fears and uncertainties can lead to mental health conditions. Moreover, the threat of COVID-19 has forced some women (and men) to delay care (such as annual screenings) when they need it the most.
Q: How much did the COVID-19 pandemic impact mental health?
Dr. Henderson: COVID-19 impacted mental health incredibly. Generally speaking, waitlists for therapists are growing and we’ve seen that people are aware that their mental health is challenged, and they are seeking therapy now more than ever. A lot of that—the outreach to therapists–has to do with influencers talking about it, which makes it safe for other people to talk about their own challenges.
Another big factor to the state of mental health is COVID. The pandemic created this challenge for all of us and we started looking inward. There was an incredible rise, especially in women, of people facing body image issues. We’ve seen a huge influx of people present with eating disorders and body image issues, who are looking for therapy for the first time.
“We have to normalize all of the help-seeking behaviors around getting help for mental health. We must make it perfectly normal and not embarrassing to talk about the challenges we all face, especially as women,” says Dr. Henderson.
Dr. Anyaoku: The pandemic also had a big impact on children, and we will see the effects for a very long time. Anxiety levels were so high in children because the world sort of shut down. They couldn’t go out. Parents began trying to homeschool 4- and 5-year-olds, but those children also need socialization. The teenagers, who are at the point of imagining their future and thinking of possibilities, suddenly found all the doors were closed. We saw a massive increase in referrals and asks for support. From January 2020 to January 2021, we saw a 33% increase in children looking for admission for depression and suicidal ideation. It’s been a rough year for our kids and it’s hard for parents to know how to navigate this unprecedented year and a half.
Q: What is the most common question that new moms are asking right now? And what is your advice?
Dr. Anyaoku: Top of everyone’s mind is COVID-19 and whether it is safe to have family and friends visit. Many moms wonder if it’s safe for grandma to stay or to have a doula. For anyone who has ever had a new baby, those first few months are so challenging. Normally, moms have support groups to help them get rest and navigate the new space, but in the world of COVID, you don’t have such robust support groups.
How do you find support? I encourage people to have a close-knit circle of friends and family, to the extent that they can. And it’s important to know that your network is vaccinated and safe. One option at Swedish is a doula program, offering pre-and post-birth services. If you’re in a space where everyone is vaccinated and you feel comfortable, the doulas can come to your house. But you can also access doula services virtually. Hear Dr. Anyaoku talk more about the importance of vaccines in the clip below.
Q: Could COVID vaccine impact fertility?
Dr. Nishio: There is absolutely no truth to that. Study after study after study has not shown a decrease in fertility for women who receive the COVID vaccine. There have been reports about menstrual irregularities after the vaccine, and it is probably the body's response to a a big shock to the immune system. Long-term fertility rates have not been impacted at all.
Q: Why should women make mental health a priority and how much time do you need to dedicate to it?
Dr. Henderson: Self-care is something we all neglect in ourselves, but it’s a simple thing to do. Just pick one thing you’re interested in: meditation, the Calm app, journaling or taking a walk. Pick one thing and do it every day for 2–3 weeks. Because when you try to do everything all at once, you’ll get overwhelmed and then you’ll feel like you failed. Get a friend to join you for those few weeks or ask them to hold you accountable. My go to self-care was face masks—you’re stuck and you have to relax and that works well for me. The point is it’s an indulgence and it’s me time.
Q: What are the most common mental health issues you’re seeing in adults right now?
Dr. Henderson: Anxiety and depression. And sometimes they present together, sometimes apart. They all have a variety of variants that go along with that, too. We’ve also seen record numbers of kids presenting at emergency departments with suicidal ideation. Hear more from Dr. Henderson on the importance of seeking help and behavioral health issues facing women in the clip below.
Q: Does mental health affect men and women differently? Is there a race-based difference?
Dr. Henderson: Mental health really knows no bounds—it’s an equal opportunity issue. What we are seeing is higher rates of women with addiction issues, especially with alcohol. A lot more people are using substances to get to that numbing phase to deal and cope.
Dr. Anyaoku: Communities of color, especially African Americans and Native Americans, are 3 to 6 times more impacted by the pandemic. There’s a lot of grief that we are having to manage. And these are populations that were impacted not because they are biologically different but because of their socio-economic status. Much of the time they are working the frontline jobs, so for a lot of our minority populations there is a family-unit impact and a concern for how to protect who is left.
Q: What's the biggest question patients ask you?
Dr. Nishio: A lot of my patients want to know about fertility. They want to know should I get pregnant now, how long do I have before it's too late to get pregnant? There are no tests to give women a time frame. Fertility does go down with age. Some women freeze their eggs, and doing so is more successful the younger you are. If you have a partner, embryos survive the freezing and thawing process more than eggs do, and we can also do genetic tests on embryos before we freeze them to ensure we are freezing those that are the healthiest.
Q: How often should women get pap smears and mammograms?
Everybody has different risk factors. In general, we used to do pap smears every year, but now we're going every three to five years because we have the ability to test for HPV now. There's such a strong correlation between cervical cancer and HPV that people who are negative for HPV don't need pap smears every year. Hear Dr. Nishio talk about the risk factors and wellness screenings in the clip below:
Learn more about how Work2BeWell is helping parents and children improve mental health.
Find a doctor
If you have additional questions about maternal health, general wellness or mental health, you can access a full range of healthcare services through Providence Express Care Virtual. If you are looking for a provider, you can use our provider directory to search for one in your area.
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