Risk factors linked to anxiety differ in men, women during pandemic

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Covid-19 pandemic has been an anxiety-inducing stressor that has affected every aspect of human life.

According to a new Canadian study, the pandemic-related risk-factors associated with anxiety differ between men and women.

The research, published online in the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that high anxiety in men is related to exposure to Covid-19 misinformation, while women’s anxiety was tied to precarious employment.

The prevalence of Generalised Anxiety Disorder among women was significantly higher than among men (17.2 per cent versus 9.9 per cent, respectively).

“It is fundamental that we strive to understand the social factors that contributed to these striking differences,” said lead author Shen (Lamson) Lin, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is the first to occur in conjunction with widespread use of social media, which facilitates the distribution of misinformation, such as vaccine rumours and unproven treatments, also known as the Covid-19 infodemic. The study discovered that frequent exposure to fake Covid-19 news is associated with mental health consequences, particularly for men,” Lin added.

As exposure to suspected Covid-19 misinformation increased among men, the odds of anxiety disorders escalated.

Men who reported that they were exposed to misinformation at least once a week were three times more likely to report high anxiety.

On the other hand, men who reported that they were exposed to misinformation multiple times a day, were six and a half times more likely to report clinically significant anxiety compared to those who reported that they rarely or never saw misinformation about Covid-19.

Women’s anxiety levels were more likely to be impacted by increased job precarity due to business closures, layoffs, mandatory quarantines and Covid-19 infections.

Women who experienced job precarity during the pandemic had triple the odds of experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder compared to women who were securely employed, after controlling for confounding variables, including sociodemographic factors.

It was not seen among men did, possibly because job precarity was not evenly distributed among genders.

“Gender-based occupational segregation results in women being overrepresented in the health and social care workforce, where they are often underpaid and have a higher risk of exposure to Covid-19 pathogens,” said Lin.

“Women are also overrepresented in food service and accommodation sectors, which were hard hit by the Covid-19 crisis”.

The study included 1,753 men and 2,016 women aged 15 years and older.

In addition, the research also identifies common risk factors of anxiety disorders for both genders, including increased intake of alcohol, cannabis and junk/sweet food during the Covid-19 outbreak.

“Mental health interventions need to be gender responsive,” said Lin. “They should also tackle upstream social determinants of health in this public health emergency.”

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