Women’s health: ‘Connect with and trust your GP’

Morgan Liotta

9/09/2020 3:57:44 PM

Dr Lara Roeske has used Women’s Health Week as a timely reminder to prioritise self-care and access to GP support.

Dr Lara Roeske
Dr Roeske said there is ‘strong emerging evidence’ on the impact of COVID-19 on women’s mental health.

‘It is incredibly important to put your health and wellbeing first … particularly now during the COVID-19 pandemic.’
Dr Lara Roeske, RACGP Specific Interests Chair and a GP with a special interest in women’s health, spoke in a presentation, ‘Taking care of your health – What matters now’, to RACGP staff on 9 September to mark Women’s Health Week.
Firstly acknowledging the male participants as indicative of their support in women’s health and wellbeing, Dr Roeske spoke about COVID-19’s ongoing impact on general practice.
‘We have seen rapid adoption by GPs of new clinic and business models, with a huge focus on and uptake of telehealth,’ she said.
‘The pandemic has also brought challenges to business viability, and women’s health has been impacted. There has been a significant drop in patient attendance – most notably women.’
Recent Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) data shows that female face-to-face general practice attendances have declined since the start of the pandemic.
Dr Roeske expressed concern for these figures, particularly in the delay or avoidance of medical appointments, a 67% drop for cervical screening in Victoria, and a decline in female attendances for the most common GP item number (23).
She is also ‘worryingly aware’ that a number of women’s pregnancy care is being delivered solely via telehealth.
‘These women need to be seen physically. It is not sufficient to be solely managed via telehealth and I urge them to talk to their GPs to book a face-to-face appointment,’ she said.
Dr Roeske said not avoiding or delaying health checks and routine screening is particularly important for vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, single mothers, women from culturally and linguistically diverse and refugee backgrounds, older women, women with disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and women experiencing family abuse and violence.
‘There is strong emerging evidence on women’s mental health, with many carrying the “triple load” of paid work, unpaid care such as child care and housework, and the mental load of financial worries,’ she said.
‘Many women work on the frontline in healthcare, social assistance and education roles.
‘Women are more vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID because they experience twice the rate of job losses than men. They are more likely to be in part-time or casual work where there are more job losses.
‘[So there are] more financial long-term consequences. For example, women are more likely to be pushed into poverty.
‘There is ongoing anxiety about the future, with an increase in unpaid caring roles such as caring for and schooling children at home, and caring for elderly family members.’
Dr Roeske also highlights that women aged 18–24 are currently demonstrating more suicidal thoughts than men, and showing an increase in alcohol and other drug use.
The 2020 ABS households impacts of COVID-19 survey found women are more likely than men to feel:

  • restless and fidgety
  • anxious and overwhelmed
  • everything is an effort
  • depressed
  • a sense of loneliness
  • disconnected and less motivated
  • they have an inability to switch off
  • worried about coming to a standstill with career progression.
Dr Roeske says these feelings can be exacerbated if there is an existing mental health condition, but can also trigger new issues, which is where GPs’ role in preventive healthcare is so important.
Asking women to consider general practice as a ‘shield wall during this volatile, uncertain and chaotic time’, Dr Roeske said GPs can support self-care and self-management.
‘Connect with and trust your GP. They can work with you around current big issues like loneliness and isolation to deliver care and implement social prescribing to improve autonomy, control and social connection,’ she said.
Dr Roeske closed her presentation with key takeaway health messages for women to optimise their mental health during the pandemic.
‘Access the support you need; it’s brave to reach out. Book in to visit your GP; the earlier the better,’ she said.
‘Stay active, do physical activities outdoors and schedule enjoyable activities, allow yourself time for these. Continue to seek out social connections, have a check-in buddy. Aim for adequate sleep, reduce or eliminate alcohol, and set digital detox times.
‘It is incredibly important to put your health and wellbeing first. The priority is to take care of yourselves, your family and your community.’
To help raise awareness among women to see their GPs, the RACGP has partnered with Jean Hailes for Women’s Health Week, 7–11 September, asking women and GPs to review and schedule any health checks that may have been missed over the past months.
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COVID-19 mental health women’s health Women’s Health Week

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