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Halima Iqbal, Bridget Lockyer, Syka Iqbal, Josie Dickerson
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions caused major disruption globally, shedding light on the unprecedented strain upon the mental health and wellbeing of individuals around the world. Poor mental health in the pandemic is reported to be greater in women, with mothers being at increased risk. It is unclear whether there are differences in the impact of mental wellbeing on some ethnic groups over others. The aim of this study was to explore the experiences of British Muslim Pakistani women with family responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, two years on from the first lockdown.
Qualitative interviews with women were conducted via telephone using a semi-structured topic guide. The sample included 25 British Muslim Pakistani women with family responsibilities, both English and non-English speaking. Women lived in households that ranged in number and included extended family. Key themes were determined using thematic analysis.
Results were grouped under three themes. These were (1) Community, cultural and religious contributors to poor mental wellbeing, (2) religious and cultural mediators of mental distress, and (3) perceived positive impact on lifestyle. British Muslim Pakistani women were psychologically distressed by the high rates of virus transmission and deaths in their communities and at the prospect of older members of their extended family developing the virus. The impact of restrictions on fundamental religious and cultural interactions further exacerbated poor mental wellbeing in this population. Religion, community social capital and larger household structures were all effective coping strategies for British Muslim Pakistani women. Positive impacts of the pandemic included becoming closer to family and faith, and increased work/life harmony.
An exploration of religious and cultural coping mechanisms should be used to inform future national pandemic preparedness plans, as well as effective strategies for building and maintaining social capital. This may increase adherence to physical distancing and other protective behaviours in populations.