Mental health and domestic violence in lockdown Britain

With experts warning the coronavirus lockdown is exacerbating already widespread mental health problems across society – and mounting evidence that domestic violence is also on the increase behind closed doors – it’s becoming increasingly clear that Covid 19 is presenting substantial numbers of vulnerable people with a psychological and physical health emergency over and above the medical effects of the virus itself.

The CWU is therefore today issuing members across the Telecoms & Financial Services sector with some general guidance and useful pointers for those struggling with the twin, and sometimes linked, scourges.

Mental health

Even in normal times, one in four people experience mental health problem every year – but the charity SANE is now warning that the Covid 19 crisis and associated lockdown is storing up a mental health epidemic for the future.

That has manifested itself, in part, by a sharp increase calls to the SANE helpline relating to domestic abuse – but the organisation also warns that people with serious concerns such  as depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts are not seeking help because they don’t want to bother the stretched NHS.

SANE’s founder and chief executive Marjorie Wallace cautions that a greater than normal reticence to reach out for help is worrying, because it means “we are going to have  untreated mental illness…and with untreated mental illness we are going to be facing a backlash.”

Similar warnings have been issued  by the World  Health Organisation (WHO), stressing that the unprecedented lockdown measures that are taking place globally to contain the outbreak are having profound negative impact on people’s mental health and well-being.

“It will be essential to address the public mental health of people during the following weeks,” stresses the WHO’s European branch director Hans Kluge. “This is not going to be a sprint but a marathon,” he  adds  – urging countries to prepare their mental health services for an expected deluge of new referrals when the lockdown is lifted.

Meanwhile , the CWU continues to raise concerns about the measures being put in place to protect members  from Covid 19 with all the major employers where the union has members, often prompted by feedback of  intense staff anxiety.

“We’re very conscious that failings in company responses to the pandemic can impact on employees’ mental health and general stress levels as well increasing the risk of them contracting Covid 19  – so it’s really important that members remember that, even in the current lockdown, the CWU is here to help, just as it always is,” stresses CWU assistant secretary Dave Jukes.

Anyone with concern or needing  assistances should contact their local rep or Branch in the first instance. Branch contact details are printed on CWU membership cards, but if you do not have yours to hand you can find out what Branch you are in, and how to make contact,  via

Alternatively you can email your query to – please ensuring  you provide your full name, the company you work for and your workplace details.

Members are reminded that Employee Assistance Programmes, where they are offered by employers, can be useful source of advice and support.

The TUC, for its part is pressing  the Government to strengthen Covid 19 protections for workers and to ensure that those employers failing in their duty of care are held to account, not least because of the potential  mental health implications. Download full report (pdf) and also see

Simultaneously the  Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is stressing that employers  have a legal duty to remove, or control, risks as far as is reasonably practical – and that this includes the risk of work-related stress which could be brought on by inadequate Covid 19 protections.

The HSE’s investigation criteria is published at and further guidance from the TUC can be viewed at

Meanwhile, the NHS website includes some handy tips on how anyone can take steps  to manage stress and improve their mental well-being, also offering a simple mood self-assessment quiz which allows you to check out your own mental well-being. Detailed advice on steps that can be taken to mitigate stress, anxiety and depression can be viewed  at


Domestic violence

The extent to which the prevalence of domestic violence (DV) is being aggravated by the Covid 19 lockdown can only be guessed at – because the scourge, which typically takes place behind closed doors and has a long history of under-reporting, is notoriously hard to measure.

However, with Government estimates from before the coronavirus pandemic suggesting that nearly 2.4 million adults aged 16 to 74 experienced some form of domestic abuse in the UK in the year ending March 2019 – and the National Domestic Abuse helpline reporting a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown began – it is certain that even  greater numbers than normal will be suffering, often in silence,  in unusually isolated conditions.

Compiled by the Office of National Statistics using data from the annual Crime Survey, the 2019 estimate broadly corroborates previous estimates that around one in four women experience DV at some stage in their lives.

In recent years, however, there has been  a significant increase in the number of men admitting they’ve been on the receiving end. Indeed, no fewer than 786,000 of 2.4 million individuals the ONS believes were victims of DV in the year ending March 2019 were male – shattering the widespread perception that women are almost always the victims, and men almost always the perpetrators.

Since the Covid 19 lockdown commenced, the charity Refuge, which helps operate the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, has received hundreds more calls every week – and  campaigners put this down in part to movement restrictions heightening domestic tensions and cutting off escape routes.

Many perpetrators already use isolation as “a tool of control,”, Refuge chief executive Sandra Horley points out.

The UK Government defines domestic violence and abuse as: “Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, of have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.”

Campaigners stress that the abuse needn’t necessarily be  physical – it can also be psychological, emotional, sexual or even financial.

Even before the concerns about domestic abuse  were exacerbated by the current lockdown  CWU was pressing BT Group to adopt a group-wide policy on DV amid evidence that some victims are effectively being punished again for the impact that the abuse they are suffering has on their performance or attendance records.

Stemming from a Tyne & Wear Branch motion that was unanimously carried by telecoms & financial services  delegates at last year’s CWU Annual Conference,  the union’s approach was initially knocked back by the company, but since then constructive talks have got underway, with the discussions due to resume later this month.

CWU assistant secretary Dave Jukes concludes: “In these difficult times, with stress and anxiety levels increasing due to the additional strains placed on workers by coronavirus, there’s every potential for DV incidents to increase – which makes our present talks with BT especially timely.

“I’m pleased to say that just this week Airwave has indicated its willingness to explore  the draft policy that the CWU has put together   – so I’m hopeful this is something we’ll be able to progress with other employers as well. Certainly at present I’m not getting any pushback whenever I raise the issue.

“In the meantime, however, its vitally important that any of our members suffering from DV – or, equally importantly, recognising themselves as a perpetrator and wanting to stop  – looks at the below Government and NHS information, as well as the attached contact details of organisations that are there to help.”