Written By Meg Aprill
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Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, experts have feared that at home quarantines would result in a spike in domestic violence. Recent reports show that this fear has become a reality. Survivors of domestic violence have been trapped at home with their abusers for months. In light of suicide prevention week this September 6 to September 12, it is essential to check in and ensure that survivors who are in and are emerging from abusive quarantines are taking care of their mental health.
Survivors of domestic violence have a very high risk of experiencing mental health conditions. After being abused by a partner, survivors are three times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other severe conditions like schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. Not only are survivors likely to experience mental health conditions after abuse, research shows that people who have pre-existing mental health issues are more likely to be targets of domestic abusers.
During the pandemic, millions of individuals around the world have experienced increased feelings of loneliness and anxiety during their stay at home quarantines. These, along with other mental conditions, have been amplified during COVID-19. For survivors who have been trapped with abusers during quarantine and have been experiencing mental health issues, this has been an extremely difficult time.
As stay at home orders and self quarantines have lifted in many states, it is crucial now more than ever to check in on survivors of abuse and provide them with support. Here are a few ways to help survivors of domestic violence take care of their mental health after quarantine:
Family and Friends
After experiencing domestic violence, survivors often feel isolated and alone, which can be a leading cause in developing mental health issues. Talking about their experience of domestic violence with loved ones can be extremely difficult for survivors, but part of their healing process is having friends or family members supporting them. RAINN has created a tool kit for family and friends of survivors that can guide them through talking and helping their loved one along with detecting signs of abuse. It is important to constantly let a survivor know you are there for them and that you believe them. As a family member or friend, listen without judgment and ask them how you can help. Survivors of domestic violence need someone to trust and talk to in order to emotionally process their experience. Don’t ever underestimate the importance of your support.
Doctors and Professionals
While many survivors of domestic violence experience mental illness, they are not routinely asked about abuse during treatment. Survivors of domestic violence often refrain from disclosing their abuse to their doctors or mental health professionals unless they are directly asked about it, research says. Mental health providers such as therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists need to routinely ask patients about current or past experience of domestic violence in order to provide the right treatment. One study found that only 15% of mental health practitioners ask their patients about experience with domestic violence.
Doctor Beena Rajkumar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists says, “screening and recording of domestic abuse needs to be a clear priority for public services so that more effective interventions for this group. . . can urgently be put in place.” As survivors emerge from quarantine, mental health practitioners need to be prepared to ask patients about domestic violence in order to provide appropriate referrals and support that can help.
For survivors of domestic violence, it is important to seek help and support after experiencing abuse, especially if you already have a mental health disorder. While it is difficult to open up about domestic violence, you can find support in someone you trust, whether it is family, friends, or a healthcare professional. Remember that you are not alone and healing from the trauma of abuse takes time.
Reflecting on the importance of mental health for survivors is imperative after the increase in domestic violence during stay at home quarantines. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has provided advice regarding talking to your practitioner about abuse and is available for help 24/7 on their website and hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Day One also provides support and services during business hours. Call our helpline at 1-800-214-4150, text 1-646-535-DAY1 (3291), or visit our website for assistance. Remember, you are not alone.