Stay home, stay safe? Not for everyone!

Stay home, stay safe during Coronavirus

You’ve heard it so many times: “Stay home, stay safe”, but how real is this catchy sentence? Sometimes, things can be a bit more complex. For some people, this motto does not fully reflect their reality. Domestic abuse victims and witnesses and those that suffer from psychological disorders are only a few of those whose reality are much different under the Coronavirus lockdown. We must not forget about them during this time of emergency.

Surge in domestic and witnessing abuse worldwide

Quarantine, forced cohabitation and socio-economic instability caused by the Coronavirus emergency can result in women and children being at risk of increased exposure to domestic abuse and witnessing violence. Stay-at-home orders and isolation have created conditions that allow child abuse and neglect to go undetected. Lockdowns around the world can mean in other words more time shared with the abuser, which cause not only an increase of abuse episodes, but also makes them worse, as reported by the WHO.

Sons and daughters, consequently, will witness violence against their mothers, the noise of beatings and broken stuff, shouting, threats and insults. They will experience sadness, anguish, fear, despair (their own and their mother’s). They will feel a sense of helplessness due to their inability to stop the abuse and a sense of guilt for not being able to fight it, with emotional, cognitive and behavioural damages as a consequence. Hence, they are not safe.

Domestic isolation discourages reporting violence

Usually, victims of abuse find the strength to report the abuse when they are away from home or when their partner is far; the imposed isolation makes them less likely to get help. The abuser can impose more freely his control on the victim. Therefore, the reduction of external contacts and the prolonged sharing of the same house with the violent partner can cause a serious obstacle to report domestic and witnessing violence. This lockdown is turning out to be an impediment to any cry for help.

Domestic abuse affects men too

There is, however, also the reverse case, namely men who suffer harassment, stalking and beatings by wives and companions. A less known and less discussed phenomenon, as if it were a taboo, but which exists and is slowly trying to emerge from the curtain of silence that surrounds it.

Sometimes people laughs at it or doesn’t take it seriously. Please don’t do it. It is a deadly serious issue in need of concerted action.

1 in 7 men in Ireland experience domestic abuse – This may be non visible abuse such as coercive control and/or parental alienation. 

Who can you call to get help?

It is crucial to reassure women that the anti-violence network is present, active and able to support them now more than ever, and they will continue to receive advice, support and protection. 

Women’s Aid at 1800 341 900, National Freephone Helpline, is available for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The organisation offers some useful information on its website about safety planning and guidance for family and friends when supporting a loved one affected by abuse.

Men’s Aid Ireland provides a confidential support service call on its National Helpline at 01-5543811. On its website the organisation offers also training. It is available for you, if you need help or maybe just someone to talk to.

It is also importance to urge people aware of violent situations to contact the law enforcement. Each of us can help a domestic violence victim and their children. Social workers are urging neighbours and others concerned about a particular family to help by doing small things to ease stress. That could include assisting in providing food or other supplies, like toilet paper or coloring books. Just listening can also help relieve stress, while virtual check-ins via phone, text or video can allow concerned individuals to be a supportive presence and watch for signs of distress, according to experts.

Family violence: home isn’t the safest place

Many people will have to spend these days staying home with other people they do not feel comfortable with, like couples in crisis who previously managed to cope with living together by fleeing outside. Some abusers are using the crisis to put extra pressure on their former partners to see the children while schools are closed. 

Despite all this, it is important to note that the evidence about the impact of Covid-19 on domestic abuse is anecdotal so far, as it would also take time to determine these trends.

The personal struggle during a time of struggle

For people with eating disorders and other psychiatric comorbidities (e.g., clinical depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder), the rumination, worry and anxiety triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic may accentuate the severity of their condition.

While most families get cracking in the kitchen and try new recipes, there is a lot of people struggling with their relationship with food and body. If getting around the table and have a meal together can be a sign of conviviality for some, for others it is a nightmare. People with eating disorders feel like they are being watched 24/7 during the lockdown and all their anxieties are amplified. We are experiencing a state of prolonged stress and this situation is similar to a trauma that leaves marks in neurobiological processes. Some people may be more vulnerable and others less. This is why during this period of emergency there is a higher risk of people living with eating disorders getting worse or relapsing.

There are various power disturbances. Precariousness, disgust and shame are feelings so widespread that pressure and continuous observation amplify them. Take for example people who suffer from bulimia. Usually it is someone who has built up tactics that allow them to hide their destructive habits around meal times. This 24/7 coexistence with the family group can destabilize them and create great suffering. If we also think of those who are used to living with phobias about food and/or certain foods, sharing the table always leads to additional stress and frustration. The Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, BODYWHYS, provides services to help you get through this difficult time. It is here to support you also with a helpline service at 01-2107905.

The isolation and the ban of leaving are burdensome for everyone and can be psychologically heavy for others: because they are in difficulty, because they are alone or on the contrary because they are forced to live in a cramped space with people they are not comfortable with. Add to this the concern about the spread of the virus, fear of the dismantling of our future perspectives, the anxiety about a possible economic crisis and the consequences that the future holds. As the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed out in a short document with advice on how to manage stress, the first thing to remember is that “it is normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared and angry” and that a simple but effective way to feel better is to make a phone call to someone you trust.

 

Domestic violence victims and people suffering from psychological diseases are having a hard time to adjust to these measurements, due to the Coronavirus. I hope this article shades a new light on these subjects. If you see or know someone who is a victim, please do not hesitate to contact the authorities. If this period has become too much to deal with, please do not hesitate to contact an helpline: their job is to support you. 

About the author

Veronica De Biasio

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