EAST CENTRAL — Since the fall, North East Outreach and Support Services (NEOSS) staff have been reporting an increase of calls for help from survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and those seeking mental health assistance.
Louise Schweitzer, NEOSS’ executive director, attributed the climbing numbers to the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding isolation.
“I think the stresses of that are starting to affect people,” Schweitzer said.
“It’s hard on individuals’ mental wellbeing. When mental wellbeing and stress becomes heightened, there’s more at risk for things like this to happen. That’s a reality.”
The specific numbers of these rising calls are still being gathered for their year-end report at the end of March.
Another theme Schweitzer said they are noticing is that the reported violence is at a “higher intensity” with more drug and alcohol addictions involved.
“These are things being noticed throughout the province,” she said. “We continue to have contact with our sister agencies throughout the province throughout the pandemic, and we’re not the only ones.”
In response, Schweitzer said people in the community should make themselves available for their neighbours to talk to and look for any red flags they may display.
“If you’re hearing conflicts next door, phone 911,” Schweitzer said.
“If they have any opportunity to speak with a potential victim, ask if they’re okay, ask if they need help – doing it in a very private way if you have an opportunity.”
She said this can be done as simply as asking, “Is everything okay at your house?” Followed by, “You can come over anytime.”
Red flags may vary from individual relationships, and may be as noticeable as a black eye or may be more covert.
“Our hospitals are trained to check for if people are coming in with lots of broken bones, or children are coming in with those sorts of things. It's something to look into, but it’s really not defined things.”
For people who are in these situations, Schweitzer advised reaching out. NEOSS’ 24/7 crisis line can be reached 1-800-611-6349.
“There’s definitely options that are available to assist you, there’s people here willing to listen,” she said. “If you cannot leave, there’s ways that we can hopefully assist you to stay safe, to care for yourself and possibly your children who are in the situation.”
Schweitzer added that this includes “safety planning,” where the individual sets up a plan to leave safely and have a prepared bag of everything they might need.
For sexual assault survivors, Schweitzer said one of the first things to do is go to the hospital.
“The hospital will be able to ensure you are well, that there is no permanent damage. They will be able to assist you in checking for STIs, those sorts of things.”
Schweitzer said the hospitals are not required to report the incident to the police, and that option remains open for the survivor.
For people who are feeling stressed about the lockdown, people can set up an appointment with NEOSS’ rapid access counselor, or call the provincial HealthLine at 811 for professional health or mental health and addictions advice, education and support.
“Reach out, the isolation has been long and wearing on everyone, but please feel that you are never alone. There’s always someone out there willing to listen and help.”