Like many issues, domestic abuse situations have only been heightened by COVID-19.
Jerrod Brown, a professor at Concordia University and program director for the Master of Arts degree in human services with an emphasis in forensic behavioral health, can offer insight on these situations. Brown has also been a part of developing a new graduate certification program currently being taught online at Concordia, “Trauma, Resilience and Self-Care Strategy.”
Part of the eight-week course concentrates on research looking trauma kids are exposed to early in life. “The more trauma, the more likely a child will have physical and mental health problems, issues at work, broken bones or diseases throughout life,” Brown said. He noted that a 1998 study examines household dysfunction, parent abuse of each other, child abuse, incarceration, racism, witnessing violence at school and its effects.
“The more trauma, the more problems growing up,” Brown said. “Most of us have had varying levels of trauma, but this study looks at younger kids. The younger the child, the great the impact.
“The research looks at in utero, as well,” Brown continued. “Was Mom in a domestic violence situation while she was pregnant? This can also affect the child. Drug or alcohol use and a lack of adequate health care can also affect the mother and developing baby.”
Brown stated that domestic violence and spousal abuse were around long before COVID-19, but the pandemic has “put gas on the fire.” He said COVID-19 has amplified stress and substance abuse, and people are not sleeping well. “It’s a recipe for disaster,” he said. He noted that factors have changed.
“Prior to COVID-19, people were not at home as much,” Brown said. “Now there is a lack of access (to outlets and resources), especially for people in rural areas. There are health care disparities, and many people are on the edge of financial disaster. Where is their next paycheck coming from? Are their work hours being cut? They may be dealing with infidelity.”
He said the rates of domestic violence are going up, considering all these factors that are being aggravated by COVID-19.
Arguments without good coping skills
Brown explained that every issue of domestic violence is different. Any type of disagreement can lead to problems when parents don’t have good coping skills.
“Should we wear masks? One parent wants the child vaccinated, and the other parent may not. One parent thinks the other is not doing anything to help,” Brown said. “Teaching coping skills and problem solving skills is important. COVID-19 is chipping away at our resilience, and if we don’t have resilience it is difficult to bounce back from stress.”
Brown emphasized the importance of finding outlets. “Talk to other people, go for a walk, unplug from the screen at bedtime, monitor your news information and social media,” he recommended. “Try to be around positive people, exercise, create boundaries. It is okay to ask for help from your primary care doctor or a counselor.” He added that if one parent wants therapy and the other doesn’t, that is a whole other can of worms.
“Some like to brush these problems under the rug, but they can build up over time and come out sideways,” Brown said.
“I talk to parents who are assuming if their kids are in school, they will be back home in a week or so. We need to develop cognitive flexibility, and go with the flow. Being adaptable can be very helpful.” Brown also said that sleep, nutrition and exercise, in that order, are important.
He said another problem is the digital divide, and some in rural areas may not have the access they need. People also may have lost health insurance. Brown suggested reaching out to a local church or help group.
Helpers need to seek out
training on domestic violence
He said it is essential for those in the helping professions to recognize that domestic violence is a public health issue, amplified by COVID-19, and to seek out training, education and research on the issue. “We will work with some clients at some point with a history or current situation of domestic violence. It affects not just the survivor, but others.”
Brown noted that if a child grows up in a home with domestic violence, others may not see that anything is going on. “But the emotional scars can carry on throughout that child’s entire life,” he stated. “Prevention is the key. Providing support early on to stop the circle of violence is really helpful.”
He reiterated that the more exposure to domestic violence a child has early in life, the more likely he or she will grow up with some challenges.
“For some, the violence may be a lifelong process. For others, a one-time thing,” Brown said. “It can happen to all kinds of people, no matter the gender or background, whether rural or city.”
Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series with professor Jerrod Brown on the psychological impacts and trauma associated with COVID-19 that is affecting members of the helping profession. Coming up are tips for those dealing with domestic violence and special needs.
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