One evening last year after two months of being stuck inside due to shelter-in-place orders, Chital Mehta, an Indian mother living in Delaware, took her two young kids, aged 6 and 2, on a walk and broke down in the middle of the road.
“The lockdown deeply affected my sanity,” she said. “I struggled to engage my children inside our small apartment.”
Mehta’s husband was at home but engaged in work, so she had to single-handedly manage most responsibilities.
“He didn’t know how hard this was on me,” she said. “I had kept myself sane for almost a month in the lockdown, and by evening I broke down in tears because I was tired of being with the kids.”
Mehta is one of the countless mothers who hit her mental and emotional limit during the pandemic. While the lockdown brought about countless social, economic, and health crises to the forefront, it disproportionately affected mothers from minority populations like Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color.
Black, Hispanic, and Asian youth were more likely to live in school districts where online school was the only option during the pandemic, which meant their mothers often had to stay at home with them, according to Dr. Jessica Jackson, a licensed psychologist and global diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging care lead at Modern Health.
“In these cases, women who were able to work from home may have felt particularly vulnerable to losing their positions when homeschooling took away much of their time, attention, and availability to work,” said Somia Zaman, a Pakistani therapist, who is also a mother of a school-aged child.
As recent McKinsey data shows, 39% of jobs held by Black workers are vulnerable due to COVID-19, compared to 34% for white workers. Meanwhile, 65% of U.S. Latinx workers are in the five sectors that are suffering the largest drops in GDP during the pandemic.
Another study found that mothers with young children had to cut down their work hours at a rate that is four to five times higher than fathers to take on child care, homeschooling, and household responsibilities. Not only did this create economic hardships, but also gave rise to inequality and unhealthy power dynamics, worsening BIPOC women’s mental health.
Lack of work options
Many mothers quit their jobs or reduced their work hours to prioritize household and child care responsibilities, but what about mothers who couldn’t take time off work? What about those who were forced to keep their jobs for the paycheck (among other family obligations), despite the obvious risks? They simply suffered more.
Indian, Black African, and Black Caribbean women are overrepresented in key worker roles in the U.K., especially in frontline health and social care, Zaman said. “For these women, working from home was never an option and they have lived with the stresses of potentially bringing COVID home to their families.”
Additionally, things are riskier and a lot more challenging for women of color as they are more likely to live in multigenerational households with elders who are at higher risk of death or serious illness from COVID-19, she added.
Where are the resources?
Nearly everyone suffered some type of loss during the pandemic years, but many also benefited from having a support system in place to help them cope. This wasn’t the case for many mothers of color, as they “face greater barriers to accessing support services and are more likely to experience inappropriate responses from statutory and voluntary agencies,” Zaman said.
Studies show communities of color are more likely to lack universal broadband, making it difficult for them to access virtual classes, remote work opportunities, and online resources. For instance, one study on behavioral health access found evidence of bias based on perceived class and race, with working-class and Black individuals less likely to be given appointments than White and middle-class individuals.
Knowing this, several organizations have come forward to help in recent months, but their efforts often fail to reach communities that actually need them. Lack of technology and other forms of accessibility resources means BIPOC communities tend to be unaware of any help that exists.
Mehta experienced this too. “Nobody was talking about resources,” she said. “I didn’t know where to look.”
The child care crunch
One of the biggest struggles BIPOC women faced during the lockdown years was the lack of access to child care facilities. The racial wage gap makes child care unaffordable for many.
“Women of color earn less per dollar than white women, and you simply can’t access what you can’t afford,” Jackson said. “Not only is child care increasingly expensive, but it’s hard to find as the child care industry was turned on its head during the pandemic—making it harder for everyone, with even more strain on BIPOC communities and those without financial resources.”
Even if finances weren’t an issue, for many mothers of color, child care still brings up safety concerns.
“Most of my friends who are BIPOC mothers are reluctant to send their kids to school or daycare,” Mehta said.
The emotional toll
In the last two years, with the struggles of balancing unstable or no employment, being unable to find the resources to meet rising healthcare costs, and having little to no institutional support, BIPOC mothers had to sacrifice their own mental health to keep the household together.
The TIME’S UP Foundation’s national survey conducted in June 2020 showed 45% of women feel hopeless or depressed at least once a week, with Latinx mothers being the most likely to experience increased anxiety about their children’s school performance.
“We’ve seen the effects of COVID—from feelings of isolation due to lockdowns to fear of getting infected—take a huge toll on people’s mental health,” Jackson said. “Now combine that with unexpectedly needing to be a full-time caregiver with limited social support due to COVID restrictions and this is what most BIPOC mothers felt.”
Mehta said staying with small children with no access to the outside world brought her life to a standstill.
“I’m still terrified,” she added. “Now if a lockdown is announced and schools close, I can’t imagine being able to cope.”