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  • Writer's pictureAmy Macdonald

Domestic Abuse and the Pandemic: Face coverings, Exemptions and Trauma

Updated: Oct 7, 2021


Due to COVID-19, the Scottish government announced in July 2020 that wearing a face covering was to be mandatory in Shops and indoor areas. This caused a lot of concern by those who had health and mental health issues. The guidance produced by the Scottish government stated that people with health issues such as; asthma, COPD, cancer and so on are exempt from wearing a mask. The government also stated that people with mental health issues, PTSD, victims of domestic abuse and those with autism etc shall come under the exemption also.

Although the rules and guidance clearly state that individuals in the classes above are exempt, this did not stop members of the general public and businesses discriminating against those who were exempt. There have been a significant amount of well-known supermarkets, clothing stores and pharmacies not allowing individuals in without a mask, asking them to wear a mask or even asking to see proof of an exemption - all of which are in complete contravention to the rules and guidance set in place by the authorities. In relation to disability discrimination.

If you fall into one of the categories which are considered exempt to the mask rule, then you do not need to wear a mask or any type of face covering, you do not need to show proof of an exemption and you certainly do not need to state why or explain the reasons why you're exempt from wearing a mask. If you can wear a mask, then feel free to do so, however, if wearing a mask is triggering or you cannot due to medical reasons, then do not feel pressured into doing so.

What are triggers?

A trigger can be anything that causes an emotional response. In a lot of cases, a trigger is an emotional reaction to some type of disturbing content, something that makes you think of abuse, takes you back to childhood or other trauma. Feeling triggered is not about something just rubbing you up the wrong way or making you feel uncomfortable. For someone with a history of any type of trauma, being around anything that reminds them of a traumatic experience (a trigger) can make them feel like they are experiencing the initial trauma all over again.

Triggers can be anything. One trigger that upsets and distresses someone else, may not upset or distress you. This does not mean that it is not a trigger or that the person feeling distressed is not valid. Having to wear a face mask or other type of face coverings can produce feelings of overwhelming anxiety, panic, distress, sadness… the list is endless.

How can wearing a mask be triggering?

Wearing a mask can be triggering to anyone, even someone who has not experienced any trauma. Wearing a face mask or face covering can cause memories from rough play to experiences of someone placing their hand over your face, mouth or throat, domestic abuse and violence, rape, sexual assault, physical assault and adbuction, amongst others.

Triggers of masks and face coverings can come from even observing a perpetrator wearing a mask or a balaclava to abuse victims or commit crimes.

As triggers are linked to our senses and emotions, masks or face coverings can bring about past feelings of abuse, simulations of previous incidents, fear and distress. Physical sensations of having nose and mouth covered can include:

  • Feelings of inability to breathe, which can lead to sickness, anxiety and panic.

  • Claustrophobia, feeling trapped, inability to remain calm.

  • Becoming increasingly sensitive to smells, touch, feelings.

These feelings and emotions can also be caused by wearing a face visor. Although in a visor it may be easier to breathe and to see, this can still cloud your vision and cause as much anxiety and distress as a face covering.

Exemptions to wearing a mask in Scotland

The majority of the populations can and do wear face coverings where mandatory. However, there are valid exemptions to this regulation.

These include:

- Children under the age of 5 years of age, due to the possibility of overheating, suffocation and strangulation.

- Persons with health conditions (asthma, COPD, Croup etc.)

- Hidden Disabilities (Autism, Dementia, Learning difficulties)

- Those with Severe Anxiety, PTSD and CPTSD.

- And persons who it would cause great difficulty, pain or severe distress and anxiety to wear a face covering.

Carrying an exemption card is a personal choice and is not required by law.

Face Covering Exemption Cards

Due to face coverings becoming mandatory in Scotland, Face covering exemption cards or mask exemption cards have been brought out. Various sites, including the Scottish government and Hidden Disability Store, have brought out these cards for people to wear, only if they wish, to show that they are exempt.

Some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they are exempt from wearing a face covering. This can help people who are exempt feel more confident and safe when accessing public spaces and using public services. However, this is not a requirement! You do not need to show that you are exempt. So if you feel more comfortable wearing one, then you are able to do so. Or alternatively, if you are not comfortable wearing one, or carrying it with you, then you do not need to.

“Carrying an exemption card is a personal choice and is not required by law.” [Scottish Government]

Know your rights

The Scottish Government has provided Coronavirus (Covid-19) publications which covers all legal aspects of Coronavirus.

In these publications there is a Face coverings section which discusses further mask exemptions. It is stated in this publication that, “Those exempt under the guidance and regulations do not have to prove their exemption and should not be made to wear a face covering or denied access to places where face coverings are required.”

Therefore, you do not need to prove that you are exempt, you do not need to wear any type of face covering (including face shields) and you cannot be denied access to any shop or public place!


Remember the ‘be kind’ movement? A movement that the whole of the country aimed to be kinder to one another following the huge increase in suicide. Why did this so quickly fall away from the forefront of people’s minds when they see someone not wearing a mask? We have seen and heard far too many stories of people being shamed and made to revert back to “victim mode” by being questioned and badgered about not wearing a mask when they have a valid, reasonable and legal reason for not wearing one.

No one should be shamed for being deaf. No one should be shamed for having mental health issues. No one should be shamed for having asthma. And certainly, no one should be shamed for not being able to wear a mask.


To join one of our Freedom Programmes, please contact us at You will have access to the online freedom programme, our private groups and to our legal department where you can find out more about parental rights and responsibilities.

All views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of the company. This article is only to be used for informational purposes only, if you need advice, please contact us.

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