- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Surging violence between romantic partners trapped at home during early COVID-19 lockdowns did lasting damage to the mental health of women up to age 60, a new study found.

Nine researchers published the study Tuesday in JAMA Network Open, having analyzed three national health surveys conducted among 13,597 women aged 21-60 between March 2020 and October 2021. They found women battered in lockdowns reported higher rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms, alcohol or drug use, and poor sleep over the first 18 months of the pandemic.

The study reveals the need for increased screening for domestic violence among women seeking mental health treatment coming out of the pandemic, said lead researcher Arielle Scoglio, a social and psychiatric epidemiologist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Women in abusive relationships are often already isolated from friends, family and the community by their partner,” Ms. Scoglio told The Washington Times. “Stay-at-home orders further isolated women and ensured they spent more time at home with their partners. In situations where women experienced violence, they had less access to help because they were staying at home and not going out into the community or to preventative health care appointments.”

Job losses and financial hardships caused by the lockdowns further endangered the lives of battered women by adding to their conflicts at home, increasing the risks of severe violence, she added.

“This type of violence can cause physical injury and death but can also lead to other health consequences such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and even increased risk of some physical health conditions,” Ms. Scoglio said. “It is important that we get information out about what help is available and strategies for how women who are isolated at home can still seek help.”

According to mental health experts, it’s essential for women in unsafe living situations to move out, regardless of quarantines. They urge battered women to text the national domestic abuse hotline or contact nearby women’s shelters, even those that may be operating at reduced or limited capacity due to pandemic health restrictions.

“This is challenging since domestic violence is common and most people do not want to admit that it is an issue and seek help,” said clinical psychologist Thomas Plante, a member of the American Psychological Association. “Front-line professionals working with these families could have more training to spot these problems and ways to support victims.”

The worst response is to try to stay at home with an abusive partner as pandemic-related stress and frustration mount, added Mr. Plante, a professor at Santa Clara University in California.

“Sadly, many people have very difficult family lives and problems such as domestic violence are common,” he said. “Challenged relationships and families often hit the breaking point during the lockdown when people were forced to be together 24/7. Frustration leading to aggression was common with few escape possibilities while we all were in quarantine.”

Mental health problems and domestic violence have “ample opportunities with indoor confinement” to flourish if public health officials do not do a better job reaching out to at-risk women in the future, said Panagis Galiatsatos, a physician at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“I see this as another consequence of the surge in dire mental health outcomes that were associated with measures to prevent COVID-19 spread,” Dr. Galiatsos said.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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