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Isoke Inniss’ profession as a social worker does not exempt her from the anxieties experienced by single-parent mothers, especially now with the added social, domestic and economic stressors brought on by COVID-19.

The mother of one is used to being the counsellor to others—helping them solve their problems—but lately, the shoe has been on the other foot.

She tells Guardian Media she is still required to work at her office at times, which poses a challenge being the parent of a minor. Her nephew—her only familial support—bails her out on these occasions, but she has to pay him as an incentive for continued help.

When her nephew is not available, she has to take her three-year-old daughter to her neighbour’s or a girlfriend’s home, so she could get to work.

As a commuter, she also has fears of contracting COVID-19 and taking it home to her three-year-old daughter, a concern, she related, which stays at the forefront of her mind, daily. She tries to be extra careful when she returns home, but said with the virus and moving about, one can never tell what can happen despite taking precautions.

Inniss said many single parents have had to deal with inconsiderate employers who have turned a blind eye to these stressful realities, all in the name of making the ‘almighty dollar’.

“You’re under a lot of pressure to still do all your duties in the same manner as if we’re not in a pandemic, and if you speak up you are victimised,” Inniss lamented.

But working from home also brought its own unique challenges.

“I have a young child who requires a lot of attention at her age. Every time I have to go into a zoom meeting I have to deal with her innocent interruptions,” Inniss explained.

Living in a tight space setting compounds the situation for Inniss, as she said there wasn’t another room she could designate to her daughter, allowing her individual space to work.

“It is hard to focus because even if I direct her to one corner of the room, she doesn’t have a complete understanding of what is going on and naturally, she follows me and wants to be with me,” she illustrated.

There is also the issue, she said, of employers not knowing when to cut off working hours when an employee is working from home.

“My phone has become a bother for me. Because you’re working from home, they believe they can have access to you at any point in time as there are no boundaries set for what working from home means,” Inniss observed.

Although her daughter won’t start virtual kindergarten until next week, already Inniss is experiencing jitters thinking about how it would work supervising her daughter’s online schooling, while simultaneously trying to maintain her work schedule.

She claims with these stressors, she has had several anxiety attacks.

Ramp-up support services

Support services need to be ramped up quickly to meet the needs of the community of single parents as it is feared, the system can become overwhelmed with increased cases of mental disorders stemming from the pressures of COVID-19.

That was the advice of the Secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists of T&T (APTT), Dr Varma Deyalsingh, who said Inniss’ account was the reality of many single mothers, noting that some were even in dire straits.

He said in light of the pandemic it was commonplace—everyone was experiencing increased levels of stress, which could in turn potentially lead to the development or exacerbation of mental health issues, such as anxiety disorders and depression. He confirmed this was more common in single parents.

“Single parents would be under a significant amount of stress with the changing and demanding needs at this time. A network of support is critical to meet these challenging times,” Dr Deyalsingh recommends.

He said, unfortunately, for many single parents that network may be a luxury they just do not possess, placing them at greater risk.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have noted on their various websites mental illness has indeed been on the rise during the pandemic.

Deyalsingh said for single parents dealing with the many daily life changes that have come as a result of the pandemic were the perfect ingredients for a breakdown—from restrictions on social movement, how one is now required to work, loss of jobs and reduced income; to dealing with the home-schooling of children and the stress of finding additional money to facilitate such, as well as childcare if they cannot work remotely.

He said studies have shown there has been an increase in single-parent families with three to four out of ten children living in this type of family structure, and that mostly women led these homes. These studies also suggest single women were almost twice as likely to suffer from depression compared to married women.

“Like it or not, we may have to create a welfare state to support our unfortunate citizens until this COVID-19 issue is resolved. Single parents have the lives of children under their care and we cannot afford for them to mentally succumb,” Deyalsingh warned.