Content warning: this article mentions abuse.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on most people’s mental health but has been acutely felt by the women and children who are victims and survivors of domestic abuse. During the pandemic, instances of domestic abuse have skyrocketed, and access to support networks have been heavily restricted.

A Women’s Aid report, published in August 2020, found that more than half of survivors (52.2%) identified as currently experiencing abuse experienced a deterioration of their mental health which left them feeling less able to cope, and over half of survivors (53.3%) who had experienced abuse in the past, said that the pandemic had been a triggered traumatic memories.

Women’s Aid has found in new stats released this week that nearly half of women (45.6%) in refuges report poor mental health as a result of abuse – with the charity believing that this is likely only the tip of the iceberg because of the stigma and fear around disclosing poor mental health.

Although for the survivors who have shared, Women’s Aid has found that available mental health services are not meeting their complex needs. Women are often referred to generic services, which do not fully understand the long-lasting effects of domestic abuse on mental health.

Hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment is urgently needed for specialist services to meet the needs of survivors

Women’s Aid is advocating for specialist women’s services – including those led ‘by and for’ Black and minority women – who they say are uniquely placed to understand the gendered nature of abuse and meet the needs of women facing intersecting forms of oppression. However, the charity’s research has revealed that, asides from specialist care, fewer than 1 in 5 refuges have trained mental health support workers, despite the outstanding need for support and the statutory funding allocated in the recent Domestic Abuse Act.

The charity estimates that at least £409m is needed next year to increase the quality of domestic abuse services across England, a current shortfall of over £200m.To address this, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, Farah Nazeer, has launched the national campaign ‘Deserve To Be Heard’ in parliament with support from the domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, to advocate for survivors needs, and to ensure that funding for specialist services includes the costs of mental health support.

In addition to delivering a letter to PM Boris Johnson, pleading him to listen and respond effectively to the urgent needs of women.

Ms Nazeer said: "Domestic abuse and poor mental health are unequivocally linked, but the current funding for specialist support services remains woefully inadequate.”

“Our data shows almost half of survivors have experienced depression or had suicidal thoughts; however, it is likely that there are many more women who don't tell anyone how they are feeling because of the stigma around disclosing poor mental health, victim-blaming, the fear of consequences in the family courts, communication barriers, and the lack of specialist support available.”

“The Deserve To Be Heard campaign will be urging government to listen to the voices of survivors, including the most marginalised women and children whose voices are often not heard or prioritised. As well as calling for urgently needed funding, the Health and Care Bill is an opportunity for survivors’ needs to be made central to upcoming health reforms.”

 “The government has a duty to recognise and address the clear need for funding of effective mental health support for survivors of domestic abuse. All women and children who have survived abuse must have access to the support that will enable them to recover and rebuild their lives.”