“I’m losing my sanity!”: The Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Mental Health of ‘Working Mothers’
Olga Zayts, Associate Professor, School of English, HKU
Zoe Fortune, CEO, City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong
Brian King, Assistant Professor, School of English, HKU
Date: 21 December 2020 (Monday)
Time: 5:00 PM (GMT +8)
Delivery: via Zoom
International research team: Mariana Lazzaro-Salazar, Universidad Católica del Maule, Chile; Sylvia Jaworska, the University of Reading, the UK; Tse Wai Sum, Vincent, the University of Hong Kong
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taken an enormous toll on the mental health of working mothers across the globe, who have struggled to sustain full-time employment, while simultaneously dealing with the closure of schools and childcare facilities and home-schooling. In this talk we present selected results of a cross-disciplinary collaborative project between psychologists, sociolinguists and a mental health NGO in Hong Kong, and discuss how such collaborative work can lead to meaningful impacts bridging academic research in social sciences and humanities, public policy and the ‘lived experiences’ of real people in the community during the unprecedented health crisis.
The project draws on mixed methods research design that integrates quantitative investigations of general trends (obtained via a large-scale target population survey) with the perspectives of real people in real crisis circumstances (obtained via interviews and focus groups) that are examined qualitatively at the most granular level. This approach ensures that the findings are generalizable and quantifiable, and that they can be used to provide fast feedback to relevant public policy agencies and employers to react to the ever-changing pandemic promptly. At the same time the approach includes the ‘voices’ and the perspectives of real people and ensures that they become part of developed policy recommendations and practical interventions.
The survey conducted by the research team in collaboration with Oliver Wyman, an international management consultant firm, indicates that 43% of over 1500 respondents (of both genders) in employment referred to childcare situation as one of the main stressors during COVID-19. In this talk we discuss some gender-specific and work sector- specific findings from the survey. We then examine ‘lived experiences’ of working mothers in a popular online women’s forum in Hong Kong. Using discourse analysis, we identify the focal themes in the online data related to working mothers’ mental health experiences since the beginning of the pandemic, including coping mechanisms and resources. This granular information expands the findings of the survey and is crucial to understanding the mental health impacts of the pandemic. We then discuss how through sharing their intersubjective experiences online, the working mothers derive strength and support from the online community and defer to the collective expertise of other mothers in the forum to make sense of their mental health struggles and the ever-changing health information, government regulations, work requirements and family responsibilities. The online forum provides a platform for these mothers to share openly without fearing repercussions and stigmatization from employers and others. Finally, we show some evidence of the impact of the pandemic on working mothers in other parts of the world (that is strikingly similar to our findings in Hong Kong), and on other working family members who share childcare responsibilities with the mothers.
Dr. Olga Zayts is an Associate Professor at the School of English, HKU. She directs Research and Impact Initiative for Communication in Healthcare (HKU RIICH), and interdisciplinary research hub that aims to improve healthcare communication practices and professional training. Dr. Zayts is a Board member of Mind HK, a mental health NGO, and an Advisory group member of City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong (CMHA HK), a workplace mental health organization, and has been trained in Mental Health First Aid. She has published widely on various aspects of healthcare communication in Hong Kong and is the Founding editor of the book series ‘Routledge Studies on Language, Health and Culture’.
Dr. Zoe Fortune is the CEO of City Mental Health Alliance Hong Kong (CMHA HK). A psychologist by background, she has led large national and international research programmes within psychiatry and health services evaluation across academic, management consultancy, and international development settings. Dr. Fortune’s work has been published in academic journals and the wider media. She is the recipient of the BBC News Award for her research work. An experienced and regular public speaker, Dr. Fortune gave a TEDx talk at TEDxTinHauWomen on the topic of mental health. Dr. Fortune regularly delivers mental health awareness training. She is also a Mentor on the Women’s Foundation Mentoring Programme.