With a larger proportion of people staying at home and the unusual circumstances we now find ourselves in, another downside of isolation is the rise in domestic violence (DV).
Even people who don’t usually have aggression issues within their homes are feeling stressed, and with services at a distance, or inaccessible, there has been a rise in DV incidents.
‘I’m in a lovely, respectful and kind relationship,’ says a local nurse. ‘We had our first proper argument in forever this week. No violence, threats or safety issues, but it highlighted how tense things are and how quickly they could escalate if one of us couldn’t regulate our emotions.
‘I was the one yelling. I felt misunderstood. I stopped yelling. We were both quiet for a bit, gave each other space. He apologised, I apologised.’
She said that she and her partner are both usually reasonable and neither likes conflict. ‘We were both quite startled by it. For families with high levels of conflict as a base line, I could see how the heightened tensions would increase the likelihood of violence.’
Another woman who was once the mayor of a large town and is married to a doctor, said that even though her partner is the most wonderful person, recently they had a ‘little tiff’ about her not wanting him to go to the supermarket. ‘We never argue but I felt so stressed about it. It settled after ten minutes but how do people cope who don’t have our situation?’
The remedy was to give each other space. ‘I am the fuming one, the sulker. My lovely human just walks away and then comes back in about ten minutes with a cup of tea, looks at me to see if I am still cross, gives me a bit more space then tries to make me laugh.
‘I was so stressed about him going to the shops and I became quite irrational. I even said he could go and live elsewhere and yelled!
'Now we are negotiating what it looks like for him to return to GP work (after retiring last December) with trepidation, and trying to look after each other.’
Another issue coming to the forefront is for people with disability (PWD) and their carers, especially families who now have more care responsibilities with kids at home from school or with services shut.
People with disability work, play and live in the same way other people do, but need support to access the community – with more and more service providers shutting their doors, carers are increasingly responsible for supporting a family member. Time apart can be important for self care, but there’s little help available, especially for people with high support needs.
There can be additional challenges to help people with a cognitive disability understand the risks that COVID-19 presents.
How do you explain to someone that they can’t see their friends or support workers any more? How do you help someone understand why they are now trapped in their own home? For people who were already segregated and isolated, losing the small freedoms they once had can feel much bigger and can lead to stress and an increased need for support.
Another tension for families who are living with a disabled person is that often that person is at higher risk of contracting coronavirus. Do you all go out for exercise and potentially risk a family member’s life? What if you need to shop for essential items and possibly come into contact with someone with the virus? What impact does close proximity have for both disabled people and carers living together without a break? The pressure cooker heats up.
Chief Executive NNSWLHD Wayne Jones says in the Northern NSW Local Health District, COVID-19 planning and response includes support for all members of the community, including vulnerable people like those affected by homelessness and domestic violence.
‘Our existing understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence and anecdotal evidence to date suggests that for many people experiencing domestic violence, social distancing and self-isolation measures may place them at greater risk of harm.’
Mr Jones adds that the mental health implications of living through natural and other disasters can be cumulative and can intensify existing experiences of trauma.
‘People’s complex coping responses to violence, abuse and childhood neglect, such as alcohol and other drug use, or the impacts on existing mental health issues, may also increase during times of natural and other disasters, requiring enhanced health care.’
Mr Jones says the NSW Government has committed to a series of changes to enhance the support available to victims of domestic violence during COVID-19. ‘The NSW Health website and new Department of Communities and Justice COVID-19 (coronavirus) website contains information about how the community and frontline services are being supported during the COVID-19 pandemic.’
NSW Health currently provides a response to domestic and family violence through the Domestic Violence Routine Screening (DVRS) Program, Social Work services, Emergency Departments, specialist Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol services, and Aboriginal Family Health services.
‘Northern NSW Local Health District is working with key service partners to ensure that the needs of individuals and their families who are victims of domestic and family violence continue to be met,’ said Mr Jones.
‘Violence Abuse and Neglect service provision continues to be a priority of the LHD during this time, and domestic and family violence support services will continue to support people to stay safe.
The nurse I spoke to said kindness helps. ‘When he apologised, it wasn’t to get it done with, it was because he cared about how I felt.’
The ex-mayor says it is a really stressful time. ‘I think sometimes we think we’re ok and coping, when underneath the surface we’re really anxious and frightened and we aren’t operating at our best because of this.’
There are a range of services providing immediate support to individuals experiencing domestic or family violence.
• 1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732 – is a confidential information, counselling and support service;
• NSW Domestic Violence Line – 1800 65 64 63 – is a state-wide telephone crisis counselling and referral service for women;
• Child Protection Helpline: 132 111;
• NSW Elder Abuse Helpline: 1800 628 221;
• Men’s Referral Service – 1300 766 491 – provide telephone counselling, information and referrals for men;
• Link2Home – 1800 152 152 – can help refer women experiencing domestic violence to crisis accommodation; and
• Lifeline – 13 11 14 – is a national charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.
If you are in danger or in an emergency, always contact Triple Zero (000).