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A Pandemic Within the Pandemic

October 6th, 2021


October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that we are experiencing ‘pandemics within the pandemic’- a phrase coined to note the overlap of public health crises. One notable pandemic that has been further exacerbated by the circumstances over the past two years is domestic violence.

A New Pandemic: The Rise In Domestic Abuse

2020. The year of so many changes: masks, social distancing, quarantine, ‘new normals’, remote everything, the widespread use of the word ‘PANDEMIC’ and that is barely scratching the surface.

Fast forward to current times, nearly two years after the start of all things due to COVID-19, and we are still seeing countless changes.

pan·​dem·​ic | \ pan-ˈde-mik \

Definition of pandemic (Entry 1 of 2)

1: occurring over a wide geographic area (such as multiple countries or continents) and typically affecting a significant proportion of the population

pandemic malaria

The 1918 flu was pandemic and claimed millions of lives.

2: characterized by very widespread growth or extent

a problem of pandemic proportions.

Source: Merriam-Webster

A New Pandemic: The Rise In Domestic Abuse 

At first glance, it seems as though this is the first pandemic of major proportions in quite some time. Yet, when we look closer at the definition as well as the social issues that have been historically plaguing the United States and other countries around the world, it is clear that we have been facing a number of pandemics within society for years.

To further complicate such a delicate and complex issue, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that we are experiencing ‘pandemics within the pandemic’- a phrase coined over the past two years to note the overlap of public health crises.

One notable pandemic that has been further exacerbated by the circumstances over the past two years is domestic violence.

The Rise of Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behaviors aimed to claim power and control over another person. This often violates their emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual, professional, and/or financial well-being, and their safety.

According to experts who study domestic violence, the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding quarantine and lockdown measures created the ideal circumstances for the significant spike in domestic violence incidents. Oftentimes, stress, isolation, and lack of available resources are sure to create that much more complex and unfortunately, dangerous.

How Does Domestic Violence Impact Mental Health?

How Does Domestic Violence Impact Mental Health?

  1. Increased Stress

To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased stress at some point or another is most likely putting it lightly. Regardless, this pandemic has touched the lives of every person in the United States.

Between figuring out work situations (whether remote or in-person), schooling for children, financial burdens, job loss, care for dependents, food and housing instability, access to medication and medical care, and endless other stressors, families are inundated with uncertainty and very real challenges.

This is especially true for communities of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized folks, as they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and its resulting implications.

These challenges can lead to impaired ability to tolerate chronic stress, depletion of regular coping mechanisms, and increased strain/tension/conflict. That said, these factors can increase the likelihood of domestic and family violence incidents.

  1. Effects of Isolation

A concept that many of us have not lived through firsthand, at least not to the magnitude of our current situation. Human beings who are innately social creatures and thrive within connection to others have been forced to isolate themselves in some capacity or another for nearly two years goes against our internal wiring.

As time has progressed, the consequences of being isolated can trigger a range of mental health problems, including:

  • Anxiety And Stress
  • Depression And Hopelessness
  • Anger, Irritability, And Hostility
  • Panic Attacks
  • Worsened Preexisting Mental Health Issues
  • Hypersensitivity To Sounds And Smells
  • Problems With Attention, Concentration, And Memory
  • Hallucinations That Affect All Of The Senses
  • Paranoia
  • Poor Impulse Control
  • Social Withdrawal
  • Outbursts Of Violence
  • Psychosis
  • Fear Of Death
  • Self-Harm Or Suicide

Considering the effects of mass social distancing on mental health as listed above, it is apparent that isolation can further exacerbate already intricate stressors. This can impair one’s ability to adequately cope with the collective trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, and significantly limit the use of one’s support system.

Once again, impaired coping, increased mental health challenges, unprecedented levels of stress, and social isolation-- are risk factors for domestic violence.

COVID-19 Impact on Mental Health

COVID-19 Impact on Mental Health

Historically, resources and funding for social services have often been limited. Add a pandemic to the equation and we see already overwhelmed systems becoming even more restrictive.

When we think about victims of domestic violence, common supportive services often include (but are not limited to):

  • Childcare services
  • Academic institutions
  • Counseling services
  • Case management services
  • Legal services
  • Shelters and crisis centers
  • Food assistance programs
  • Financial support programs, and many other services.

Now that there are mass social distancing measures in place and limited capacities, many of these vital agencies have been overloaded, resulting in families potentially being turned away. Without access to necessary resources, individuals and families are left to figure out how to navigate their situation on their own.

Therefore, families frequently resort to staying in their current situation because navigating, let alone escaping, a domestic violence situation is never as simple as ‘just leaving’. Unfortunately, this leads to further victimization.

Getting Help For Domestic Violence

Getting Help For Domestic Violence

Now that time has passed, these agencies have reopened to varying degrees. If you feel that you and/or your family are experiencing domestic violence, remember that you are not alone.

Listed below are ways to help navigate through these very difficult and chaotic times. As always, if you are in immediate danger, please call 911.

Domestic Violence Helpline

  • 1-877-TO END DV or 1-877-863-6338 (Voice)
  • 1-877-863-6339 (TTY)

Chicago Office on Domestic Violence

Information, Options, Counseling, Legal and Shelter Services: Toll-Free. 24-hour. Confidential. Multilingual.

MyPlan App

MyPlan is an app for anyone having issues in an abusive relationship, COVID-19 related or not. The app can help users determine if a partner’s behavior is showing signs of abuse. Also, users can get connected to resources personalized to their situation and their life priorities.

Steps You Can Take to Keep Yourself and Others Safe:

  1. Find a place you can retreat to safely. Avoid the bathroom or kitchen.
  2. Enlist support from a trusted friend or family member you can call.
  3. If necessary, use a code word or phrase to indicate you need help.
  4. Memorize the phone numbers of people and agencies you might need to call in an emergency.
  5. Make sure you can easily access:
    • cash.
    • identification (Social Security card and driver’s license).
    • birth and marriage certificates.
    • credit cards, safe deposit box keys, and bank information.
    • health insurance information.
    • any documentation, photos, medical or police reports relating to previous episodes of abuse

Have a Safety Plan to Reference

A safety plan increases safety and prepares a plan in advance for the possibility of further violence. You can find a personalized safety template here.

Chicago and Illinois Domestic Violence Agencies

Chicago and Illinois Domestic Violence organizations offer additional resources on domestic violence, trauma, mental health, and substance abuse. You can find a full list of agencies here.

Between Friends

Between Friends is a Chicago-based nonprofit agency dedicated to breaking the cycle of domestic violence and building a community free of abuse. Through the agency's 24-hour domestic violence hotline (1-800-603-4357), counseling, and court advocacy services, Between Friends provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals and families in crisis, while educating communities as part of the movement to end domestic violence.

Written by: Marialaina Bucci, LCPC, NCC, CDVP, CCTP

Clarity Clinic

At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic on (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.

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