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      Intersections between COVID-19 and socio-economic mental health stressors in the lives of South African adolescent girls and young women


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          In contexts where poverty and mental health stressors already interact to negatively impact the most vulnerable populations, COVID-19 is likely to have worsened these impacts. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in South Africa already faced intersecting mental health stressors and vulnerabilities. It is critical to understand how additional challenges brought on by COVID-19 have intersected with existing vulnerabilities and mental health risks AGYW faced, particularly given the intersections between psychological distress and increased risk behaviours that impact sexual and reproductive health. We aimed to examine socio-economic and mental health impacts of COVID-19 on South African AGYW in order to understand how additional challenges brought on by COVID-19 have intersected with existing challenges, compounding AGYW vulnerabilities.


          Using qualitative and quantitative methods, framed by the syndemic theory, we examined the intersections between mental health and the COVID-19 epidemic amongst AGYW in six districts of South Africa characterised by high rates of HIV, teenage pregnancy and socio-economic hardship. Between November 2020 and March 2021 we conducted a cross-sectional telephone survey with 515 AGYW, and in-depth interviews with 50 AGYW, aged 15 to 24 years.


          Our findings reveal how COVID-19 restrictions led to increased experiences of stress and anxiety. Poor mental health was compounded by strained family relationships, increased fear of domestic violence, household unemployment, economic stress and food insecurity. Respondents described feelings of boredom, frustration, isolation, loneliness, fear and hopelessness. However, despite the multitude of challenges, some AGYW articulated emotional resilience, describing ways in which they coped and retained hope.


          Various psycho-social risk factors already disproportionally affect the mental health of AGYW in these communities; the COVID-19 pandemic intersects with these pre-existing social and environmental factors. Understanding strategies AGYW have used to positively cope with the uncertainty of COVID-19 amongst an array of pre-existing mental health stressors, is key in informing efforts to respond to their needs. Multisectoral interventions are needed to address the drivers of poor mental health among AGYW, and bolster healthy coping mechanisms; interventions seeking to mitigate the mental health impacts on this vulnerable population need to be responsive to the unpredictable pandemic environment.

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          Family violence and COVID‐19: Increased vulnerability and reduced options for support

          Introduction Family violence refers to threatening or other violent behaviours within families that may be physical, sexual, psychological, or economic, and can include child abuse and intimate partner violence (Peterman et al. 2020, van Gelder et al. 2020). Family violence during pandemics is associated with a range of factors including economic stress, disaster‐related instability, increased exposure to exploitative relationships, and reduced options for support (Peterman et al. 2020). Due to the social isolation measures implemented across the globe to help reduce the spread of COVID‐19, people living in volatile situations of family violence are restricted to their homes. Social isolation exacerbates personal and collective vulnerabilities while limiting accessible and familiar support options (van Gelder et al. 2020). In many countries, including Australia, we have already seen an increase in demand for domestic violence services and reports of increased risk for children not attending schools (Duncan, 2020), a pattern similar to previous episodes of social isolation associated with epidemics and pandemics (Boddy, Young & O’Leary 2020). In Australia, as stay‐at‐home orders came into force, the police in some parts of the country reported a 40% drop in crime overall, but a 5% increase in domestic abuse call‐outs (Kagi 2020). At the same time in Australia, Google reported a 75% increase in Internet searches relating to support for domestic abuse (Poate 2020). This pattern is repeated internationally. Reports of domestic abuse and family violence have increased around the world since social isolation and quarantine measures came into force. Recently, anecdotal evidence from the United States, China, Brazil, and Australia indicates increases in intimate partner, women, and children violence due to isolation and quarantine (Campbell 2020; Peterman et al. 2020; van Gelder et al. 2020). China, the first country to impose mass quarantine in the Wuhan province, saw reported domestic abuse incidents rise threefold in February 2020 compared to the previous year (Allen‐Ebrahimian 2020). As Europe imposed quarantine measures in an effort to slow the tide of infection, the Italian government began commissioning hotels to provide shelter to the increasing number of people fleeing abusive situations (Davies & Batha 2020). Similarly, France reported a 32% ‐ 36% increase in domestic abuse complaints following the implementation of self‐isolation and quarantine measures (Reuters News Agency 2020). France also began commissioning hotels as shelters for those fleeing abuse. As quarantine measures extended to the United States, individual states reported similar increases in domestic abuse incidents ranging from 21% to 35% (Wagers 2020). Back in Europe, the UK has also seen concerns about increase in family violence (Bradbury‐Jones & Isham 2020). There have been reports of homicide associated with family violence in several countries (Bradbury‐Jones & Isham 2020; Reuters News Agency 2020). The National Domestic Abuse Hotline in the UK saw a 25% increase in calls since stay‐at‐home measures were implemented (Kelly & Morgan 2020), recording at least eight family violence‐related deaths (Knowles 2020). Isolation and family violence As the novel coronavirus outbreak has intensified globally, countries are adopting dedicated measures to slow the spread of the virus through mitigation and containment (van Gelder et al. 2020; Campbell 2020). Social distancing and isolation are central to the public health strategy adopted by many countries, and in many settings, penalties are in place for any person who breaches these imposed restrictions. Social isolation requires families to remain in their homes resulting in intense and unrelieved contact as well as the depletion of existing support networks, such as through extended family as well as through social or community‐based support networks for families at risk. Additionally, isolation places children at greater risk of neglect as well as physical, emotional, sexual, and domestic abuse (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children [NSPCC] 2020). Due to (necessary) imposed social distancing and isolation strategies, and the resulting shortages of essential resources and economic consequences of these measures, people globally are living under stressful conditions. While social isolation is an effective measure of infection control, it can lead to significant social, economic, and psychological consequences, which can be the catalyst for stress that can lead to violence. A perfect storm Isolation paired with psychological and economic stressors accompanying the pandemic as well as potential increases in negative coping mechanisms (e.g. excessive alcohol consumption) can come together in a perfect storm to trigger an unprecedented wave of family violence (van Gelder et al. 2020). In Australia, as social distancing measures came into place, alcohol good sales rose more than 36% (Commonwealth Bank Group 2020), and as restaurants, bars, and pubs closed, people are now drinking more within the confines of their homes. Unemployment figures around the world have rapidly risen into the double digits, with millions signing up for welfare payments and a worldwide recession predicted in the near future (Kennedy 2020). Substance misuse, financial strain, and isolation are all well‐known domestic abuse risk factors (Richards 2009). During isolation, there are also fewer opportunities for people living with family violence to call for help. Isolation also helps to keep the abuse hidden with physical or emotional signs of family violence and abuse less visible to others (Stark 2009). COVID‐19 and coercive control Reports show that COVID‐19 is used as a coercive control mechanism whereby perpetrators exert further control in an abusive relationship, specifically in the use of containment, fear, and threat of contagion as a mechanism of abuse. In Australia, charities providing support to people experiencing domestic abuse have highlighted concerns specifically related to reports from people whose intimate partners are using COVID‐19 as a form of abuse. There have been reports of misinformation used by intimate partners related to the extent of quarantine measures (Gearin & Knight 2020) and other forms of COVID‐19‐related abuse (Fielding 2020). Further, there are reports that those experiencing domestic abuse may be afraid to go to hospital for fear of contracting COVID‐19 (Fielding 2020). Reimagining support networks for people living with family violence during these challenging times We recognize that these are challenging times for all of us, but especially for the most vulnerable families and children. The United Nations Secretary‐General Antonio Guterres recently called for countries to prioritize support and set up emergency warning systems for people living with family violence (News Wires 2020). Pharmacies and grocery stores in France are now providing emergency warning systems to help enable people to indicate that they are in danger and need support (Guenfound 2020), through the introduction of code words to alert staff they need help (Davies & Batha 2020). Domestic abuse support agencies in some areas have published specific guidance on domestic abuse in COVID‐19 focussing on what friends and family can do to support people who are isolated (Domestic Violence Resource Centre Australia [DVRCA] 2020). Charities are also recognizing the role that neighbours can play in supporting people living with family violence, providing advice on what to listen for and look for while they themselves are home, and encouraging conversation with neighbours (Gerster 2020). Conclusion The fear and uncertainty associated with pandemics provide an enabling environment that may exacerbate or spark diverse forms of violence. Actions such as social distancing, sheltering in place, restricted travel, and closures of key community resources are likely to dramatically increase the risk of family violence (Campbell, 2020). Governments and policymakers must create awareness about an increased risk of violence during pandemics and highlight the need for people to keep in touch with each other (while observing precautionary measures) and the great importance of reporting any concerns of abuse. It is important to remember that maintaining social connectedness is an important strategy during times of isolation (Usher et al. 2020), even more so with family or friends you suspect may be at risk of family violence. In addition, information about services available locally (e.g. hotlines, tele‐health, respite services, shelters, rape crisis centres, and counselling) must be made known to the general public through a range of sources, including social media, the mainstream media, and health facilities. Mental health professionals can support people by providing first‐line psychological support, including listening empathetically and without judgment, enquiring about needs and concerns, validating peoples’ experiences and feelings, enhancing safety, and connecting people to relevant support services (WHO 2020).
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            Adolescent psychiatric disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown

            Highlights • The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown may have a negative impact on the mental health of adolescents. • Epidemics and disasters are associated with adolescent Post Traumatic Stress, Depression, and Anxiety symptoms. • Home confinement may be associated with increased intrafamilial violence. • Healthcare system adaptations are necessary for mental health support despite the lockdown. • Data is scarce on adolescent psychiatric disorders during epidemics and pandemics.
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              Is there a bias against telephone interviews in qualitative research?

              Telephone interviews are largely neglected in the qualitative research literature and, when discussed, they are often depicted as a less attractive alternative to face-to-face interviewing. The absence of visual cues via telephone is thought to result in loss of contextual and nonverbal data and to compromise rapport, probing, and interpretation of responses. Yet, telephones may allow respondents to feel relaxed and able to disclose sensitive information, and evidence is lacking that they produce lower quality data. This apparent bias against telephone interviews contrasts with a growing interest in electronic qualitative interviews. Research is needed comparing these modalities, and examining their impact on data quality and their use for studying varying topics and populations. Such studies could contribute evidence-based guidelines for optimizing interview data. 2008 Wiley Periodicals, Inc

                Author and article information

                zoe.duby@mrc.ac.za , zoe.duby@gmail.com
                Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health
                Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health
                Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health
                BioMed Central (London )
                26 March 2022
                26 March 2022
                : 16
                [1 ]GRID grid.415021.3, ISNI 0000 0000 9155 0024, Health Systems Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, ; Francie van Zijl Drive, Parow Valley, Tygerberg, Cape Town, South Africa
                [2 ]GRID grid.7836.a, ISNI 0000 0004 1937 1151, Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences in the School of Public Health and Family Medicine, , University of Cape Town, ; Cape Town, South Africa
                [3 ]GRID grid.11835.3e, ISNI 0000 0004 1936 9262, Institute for Global Sustainable Development, , University of Sheffield, ; Sheffield, UK
                [4 ]GRID grid.11951.3d, ISNI 0000 0004 1937 1135, Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) and African Social Sciences Unit of Research and Evaluation (ASSURE), School of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, , University of the Witwatersrand, ; Johannesburg, South Africa
                [5 ]GRID grid.40263.33, ISNI 0000 0004 1936 9094, Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences, , Brown University School of Public Health, ; Providence, RI USA
                © The Author(s) 2022

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                Research Article
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                © The Author(s) 2022

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                covid-19,lockdown,adolescent girls and young women,mental health,south africa


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