If you follow our social media accounts, you may have seen us posting about October being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, as well as Depression and Mental Health Awareness Month. Even though October has passed, it does not mean awareness should too! Since domestic violence and mental health go hand in hand, we thought we would talk a little more on this topic to spread awareness.
Due to the emotional toll and trauma of domestic violence (DV), experiences of DV can undoubtedly cause depression and other mental health issues for victims and survivors.
Throughout this article, the terms “domestic violence”, “domestic abuse”, and “DV” will be used interchangeably though they have the same meaning.
What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence refers to violence or abuse between intimate or romantic partners. Often, when people hear of domestic violence, they automatically think of physical violence. However, domestic violence can happen in various forms, including:
- Physical abuse: Hitting, beating, kicking, pushing, and other forceful and aggressive physical behaviors.
- Emotional/Psychological abuse: Putting their partner down, name-calling, threatening, controlling their actions such as where they go, when, who they spend time with, etc., manipulating, demeaning, degrading, or harassing.
- Financial abuse: Controlling a partner’s use of money, stealing their money, draining bank accounts, engaging in fraudulent financial activity in their partner’s name.
- Sexual abuse: Rape, non-consensual sexual actions, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, etc.
How are DV and mental health connected?
Regardless of which form domestic abuse takes, all forms can undoubtedly leave devasting physical and emotional impacts on the victim. In any kind of abuse situation, the victim is often robbed of their own control and dignity; they are controlled coercively by their abuser/perpetrator. In addition, many DV survivors are sworn to secrecy and threatened if they try to reach out for help. When DV survivors do attempt to reach out for help, they are not always believed, which can result in even more feelings of betrayal, shame, and isolation. If they attempt to separate or divorce, often that enables the perpetrator to inflict even further abuse; therefore, survivors often feel stuck and forced to live in these very difficult situations that they feel they have no escape from.
In some cases, their perpetrator may be manipulative to the point of convincing the survivor’s friends and families that the victim is the problem, degrading their character, and making others turn against them when they need support the most.
The reasons and ways in which domestic abuse can cause mental health issues vary from person to person. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the ways in which DV can have a negative impact on mental health. The important thing to remember is that Domestic Violence is a form of trauma and to understand why the mental health impacts of DV can be so devasting, it can be helpful to think of it through a trauma-lens. Understanding that trauma is a form of severe adverse life experiences that can drastically change one’s mental and physical health paints a clearer picture of why abuse can have such significant impacts on mental health.
Statistics – Why is this so important?
To provide context for why both matters are so important, here are some facts.
- Approximately 1.2 million women and 700,000 men experience domestic violence each year (Office for National Statistics).
- Women who have experienced domestic violence are at a greater risk for developing mental health conditions.
- PTSD, Anxiety, Depression, and sometimes substance abuse, are just a few of the mental health conditions associated with DV.
- Children are also impacted emotionally when witnessing domestic violence and have an increased rate of mental health conditions as a result.
Resources for victims/survivors:
If you are struggling in a situation of domestic violence or have recently gotten out of an abusive relationship, wondering where to turn next for help and support; you’re not alone. Here are some resources that may be able to help.
- Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 800-799-7233, text “Start” to 88788, or chart on the National Domestic Abuse Hotline’s website (insert link) to be connected to someone who can help.
- Your County Domestic Abuse Agency: Every county has a Domestic Abuse Agency that is available to offer resources, including shelter, protection from abuse support, mental health support and other resources. – (will insert links)
- For Delaware County – Domestic Abuse Project of Delaware County.
- For Chester County – Domestic Violence Center of Chester County or The Crime Victim’s Center of Chester County
- For Philadelphia: Women In Transition
If you know someone in a domestic violence situation, it can be hard to know exactly what to do or how to help. However, looking away can sometimes cause further trauma. One of the most important things you can do when someone discloses domestic violence is believe the survivor and offer support in the ways that you can.
- Listen and take time to care. Victims and survivors are chronically misunderstood and often don’t have a voice for themselves or a shoulder to lean on. Even if all you can do is listen and be there for them in that way, it can make a huge difference in knowing they have at least one person to count on.
- Offer to help find resources. Often victims and survivors are too afraid to seek resources out for themselves. However, having the help and support of another can be immensely helpful.
- Let them know they are believed and heard. Victims and survivors need to be heard. Sometimes those exact words of “I believe you” and “I hear you” are exactly what they need.
All in all, domestic violence is very real, as are the mental health impacts that come with it. Being aware, spreading awareness, and being an ally for those who have experienced abuse can be a huge step in helping break the stigma.
References and Resources:
Domestic violence: Statistics. Mental Health Foundation. (n.d.). https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/statistics/domestic-violence
National Domestic Violence Hotline. The Hotline. (2023, April 27). https://www.thehotline.org/
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence. PCADV. (2023, September 21). https://www.pcadv.org/