Mental Health Awareness Month: Mental Health of Torture Survivors During COVID-19

SOTIAdmin Therapy, Healing

Mental health awareness month of 2020 has come at such a critical time, with the urgent demand for more attention to the astounding increase of mental health needs stemming from the pandemic. COVID-19 has significantly impacted our individual lives and our communities. Many of us have grappled with loss, grief, apprehension, and a sense of lack of control over our current situation. However, the negative long-term mental health effects of such devastating circumstances have already manifested and will only get worse. While some of us may have stronger support systems and are fortunate enough to endure the stay at home restrictions, others, especially survivors of torture, often are not afforded that same privilege.

Torture survivors already experience a range of severe mental and physical health issues stemming from the torture they have endured. 5 out of 6 clients we served last year were asylum seekers and, while the asylum-seeking process is difficult, it has become even more complex due to the pandemic restrictions. For many asylum-seeking torture survivors, the level of distress may be greater if they do not have access to a work permit or public assistance and, therefore, have an extremely limited safety net.

COVID-19, and the required self-isolation, has negatively impacted the mental health of torture survivors. It has amplified our clients’ trauma symptoms and, ultimately, has left a significant impact on their overall mental health state. Many clients have reported increased mental health symptoms including depression, anxiety, and hypervigilance. One client reported that the shelter-in-place triggered flashbacks of “house arrest” while another reported intrusive memories of imprisonment.

In 2019, SURVIVORS prioritized the mental health of torture survivors, tending to their psychological needs with over 300 direct mental health services. We are dedicated to meeting the increasing need for mental health services for new and continuing clients during and after COVID-19. Through our open-door policy, SURVIVORS ensures clients have a continued sense of support and connection. This policy has created a safety net for all our clients—current and past—so much so that former clients have reached out to SURVIVORS for care during the COVID-19 pandemic. One client, connected to SURVIVORS in the ‘90s, has recently contacted us in a state of crisis because of job loss and other hardships resulting from the pandemic.

During COVID-19, SURVIVORS has had to pivot our services to meet our clients’ needs while maintaining shelter-in-place policies. Our entire team has shifted to work-from-home and will continue to do so until we can ensure the health and safety of our clients. We have prioritized our clients’ mental and physical health needs and can provide our services with the use of professional interpreters in our clients’ native or preferred language(s). We are providing contact-free deliveries of boxes of basic need supplies to our clients’ homes which include food, hygiene products, diapers, hand-sewn face masks, and cards of encouragement. We continue to send cards of hope and provide support by telephone to our clients in immigration detention centers. We are providing individual therapy, family therapy, and psychiatry by secure video platforms and telephone.

SURVIVORS is proud to offer community and support to torture survivors during this isolating pandemic. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, please consider supporting torture survivors during this trauma inducing time. We are grateful we can provide trauma-informed mental health services to torture survivors in a welcoming community.