5. Mental health impact
Throughout Phases 1 to 3, all VAWG services involved in the research consistently reported victims experiencing significant mental ill health due to the impact of COVID-19. Organisations reported victims cited the combined impact of isolation, lack of safe childcare options, managing the risk of domestic abuse and the risk of the virus to have a severe impact on their mental health and resilience. Some victims of domestic abuse reported their lack of options for 'emotional safety-planning' (attending safe spaces such as churches and/or sporting, parenting or community groups) impacted negatively on their mental health. The impact was also particularly acute for women involved in prostitution/CSE due to the unknown end date and financial and economic impacts of the Coronavirus restrictions.
Many organisations observed increases in crisis work with victims, with many people experiencing suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety, increasing substance misuse as a coping mechanism, and/or increased levels of fear, both of the perpetrator and the virus. Organisations observed that victims required increased support, with many contacting services several times a week and requiring extended support calls. A number of services report that low mood and trauma triggers appear to be a recurring feature for the most isolated women.
Particularly during Phases 1 and 2, there were reports of victims with addictions lapsing or relapsing during lockdown, and services and clients attributing relapse to increased isolation, lack of support and the increased pressures of having children at home.
Some organisations (both those supporting women in prostitution and people experiencing domestic abuse) set up partnerships or in-house arrangements to offer trauma-informed counselling/therapy to victims, or expanded existing services. Most organisations offered only a small number of counselling spaces and reported demand and uptake were high.