FRESH worries have been raised about a rise of domestic abuse in Scotland as nearly half the population confess to have suffered from mental health issues over the lockdown.

The Scottish Women's Aid charity says that the demands on Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline have doubled since the same time last year - and have risen by around 50% since pre-lockdown.

But Scottish Women's Aid, which runs the line, fears the rise in calls represent "only a snapshot" of the situation going on behind closed doors, as people still fear confiding about their ordeal.

It comes as a new survey conducted by OnePoll spelt out the extent to which the pandemic crisis has hit the state of mind of the nation.

It reveals that 46% of the Scottish population feel lockdown measures have had a negative impact on their mental health. And it further reveals that half of those affected have not spoken to someone about their emotional well-being.

Wendy Halliday, director of See Me, Scotland's programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination said: “The stigma and discrimination around mental health can mean that people don’t want anyone around them to know they’re struggling.

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"This survey shows lockdown is having a huge impact on people’s mental health, so it’s worrying to see the proportion of people who haven’t spoken to someone about how they’re feeling and many others are feeling lonely. We would urge people not to struggle alone, or think that there are bigger things happening in sethe world; you should never feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about your mental health. We all need to help each other and take people’s mental health seriously."

Scottish Women's Aid said it continued to have concerns about abusers exploiting the current pandemic to break contact arrangements and to not return children to a non-abusing parent.

A Women's Aid spokesman said: "The current Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdown has meant that perpetrators of domestic abuse now have further opportunities for surveillance and control as they know where their partner or ex-partner is likely to be at any given time.

"Additionally, the closure of schools, as well as other community spaces where young people get to enjoy their freedom, means that they do not have access to some of the spaces where they feel safest and where they have access to trusted adults outside of their family."

Scottish Women's Aid will today launch a new short animated film aimed at reaching young women who are experiencing domestic abuse during lockdown.

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This and a new film to be aimed at younger children due to be launched next week will be used for training professionals on how to identify those who are experiencing domestic abuse and how to support them.

It comes as the Scottish Government said that councils are to get more support to deal with increased levels of domestic abuse and gender-based violence during the coronavirus outbreak.

Last week domestic abuse agencies and the national housing mobility service, Homefinder UK united to raise a four-point housing-focused Call to Action for social housing providers to prioritise domestic abuse survivors for housing lettings in both the social and private sectors. The Call to Action came the day after the government reopened the housing market in England following seven weeks of lockdown.

Call to Action organisers say the surge in domestic abuse has resulted in a 50% increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline run by Refuge, and a 35% increase in calls to Men’s Advice Line.

A campaign spokesman said: "The lockdown measures have resulted in a significant increase in physical and emotional harm to women and children experiencing domestic abuse. This crisis highlighted striking inequalities in people’s housing conditions. It has also revealed another pandemic - domestic abuse."

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The mental health survey commissioned by The Virtual Big Lunch, a June thanksgiving weekend for neighbours and communities, found that over half of Scotland's population are worried that another pandemic could happen.

The online survey involving over 400 across Scotland found one in five were worried about the mental health effects on someone they know, and a quarter say the crisis had left them feeling vulnerable.

Across the UK, 45-54 year olds reported feeling the most anxious during lockdown, it is young people that have been most impacted by social isolation measures.

It said under-24s are more likely to feel lonely, depressed, experience insomnia and feel teary and almost one in three young people surveyed reported feeling hopeless.

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott said that mental well-being could be further affected as employees return to the workplace - as it reopens fears being managed during lockdown.

"Lockdown can be likened to a well-known psychological survival tool called avoidance," she said. " When we avoid what we fear we temporarily get relief from our anxious feelings.

"The problem is that when we go back to the thing we were avoiding, we feel the anxiety much more keenly. This is what is happening globally now and goes some way to explaining the intense fear reactions we are observing as we come out of lockdown.

Scottish Women’s Aid today launches this new short animated film for young women who are experiencing domestic abuse during lockdown. 

"Those fears are often being expressed as anger, an anger we are seeing in many places: on television we see angry hosts on news shows; we see angry people being interviewed about lack of care. The truth is and it’s one we can’t avoid is that we are in uncertain times and things have and will continue to change. The most important skill psychologically we are going to need right now is how to live with fear and uncertainty."

Peter Stewart of the Eden Project which is behind the Big Lunch said: “Our survey shows that Groundhog Day monotony and social isolation are the biggest factors affecting our mental health right now. Instead of cancelling The Big Lunch this year, we have taken the decision to find novel ways of keeping people connected. "

The Scottish Government said that guidance developed in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) will help women and children continue to get the best support that they deserve.

The guidance points to "local resources", and "assists decision-makers" in identifying women and children at risk as well as the short, medium and long term steps they can take to support their recovery and wellbeing.

It forms part of a range of measures introduced to tackle higher levels of abuse and violence, including a £1.5 million funding package for the women’s aid and rape crisis network.

Ministers say it will help to "maximise the effective protection and provision of support" for those experiencing gender-based violence, both during this immediate crisis period and in the longer term.

Equalities minister Christina McKelvie said: “I am both saddened and shocked that domestic abuse has increased during this lock down period. It is unacceptable that people are at risk from those they live with. While these times are difficult for all of us, there are unfortunately those who are more badly affected. Some women and children may feel more even isolated now, and need our help more than ever.

“This guidance is underpinned by our existing Equally Safe strategy and will support the strong leadership already being demonstrated by local authorities and their key community planning partners across Scotland.

“We want to continue to work with our partners and to share intelligence, shape the ongoing crisis response and plan for the long term.

“Together, the Scottish Government and COSLA are committed to tackling violence against women and girls wherever it exists and through whatever form it manifests. Our work in this area remains at the heart of the our joint response to Covid-19.”

Three weeks ago, it emerged use of a police scheme in Scotland to find out whether a partner has an abusive past had risen by almost a fifth since lockdown began.

Police Scotland said around 260 requests were made through its domestic abuse disclosure scheme between restrictions coming into force on March 23 and Monday April 27.

Requests had risen 18% on the 219 made over the same period of 2019.

Police officers and other professionals such as social workers and NHS staff are making the majority of the requests, under the Power to Tell aspect of the scheme which enables them to raise a concern about someone they believe might be at risk of domestic abuse.

Police Scotland then decides whether to make a disclosure to safeguard a person.

Kelly Parry, COSLA’s community wellbeing spokesman said: “We know that this pandemic has heightened the risks to women and children living with domestic abuse and other forms of gender based violence globally. This supplementary guidance is informed by the expertise of a broad range of committed services and partner organisations in Local Authority areas across Scotland.

“Covid-19 does not offer abusers an excuse for their choices and their behaviours. Working closely with colleagues across health services and with third sector specialist services, we will continue to robustly seek to provide support to all victims of gender-based violence and to hold perpetrators of violence and abuse firmly to account.”