Domestic Abuse and Mental Health

Today is blue Monday, it’s claimed to be the most depressing day of the year. This is believed caused by a number of factors; the party season is over, we’re all spent up, the weather is foul, it’s ages until the next holiday and it’s difficult to know what there is to feel cheerful about. But this type of depression or low mood rarely lasts. As soon as the weather improves, we tend to snap out of our gloominess, unlike the depression that tends to accompany domestic abuse.

The vast majority of survivors of domestic abuse will suffer some form of mental health issue, the most common being anxiety and depression. Women who have been abused by a partner are three times more likely to suffer depression, anxiety or severe conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder than other women, according to research.

There is a two-way relationship between mental health and domestic abuse. Firstly, domestic abuse is frightening, confusing and depressing and it is unusual to be abused in a domestic setting and it not have a negative impact on mental health. Secondly, women who suffer poor mental health are more likely to be subjected to domestic abuse, they’re often more vulnerable in the first place and perpetrators of abuse will play on this vulnerability. When survivors move on from the abusive relationship, it’s generally the damage to their mental health rather than physical health that is more challenging to recover from. Their self-esteem is very often damaged and this is a factor that encourages survivors of abuse to enter another abusive relationship because they lack self-worth.

So, perpetrators of abuse often contribute to the poor mental health of their partners, but ironically, they’ll tend to home in on this vulnerability to abuse further. They’ll tell women they’re mad, that they need to be watched at all times. They’ll threaten to take the children away and accuse them of being an unfit mother. They’ll use mental health in their gas-lighting of them.

Survivors of domestic abuse who suffer poor mental health are in a particularly vulnerable position when it comes to accessing help. These women are likely to find reporting the abuse very difficult. They may think they will not be believed, they may suffer from apathy caused by depression, and suffer from a sense of shame because of the stigma attached in our society to having mental health diagnosis which may make them feel even more powerless. Also, the response of service providers can be negatively affected due to the stigma of mental illness. They may not believe the disclosure and choose to believe the partner who says the woman’s grip on reality is shaky. They may judge the survivor, particularly if she is self-harming, has attempted suicide, or uses alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.

It’s critical that all services that have contact with domestic abuse survivors, receive training so they can provide an appropriate response. This includes knowing how to discuss mental health with sensitivity and understanding, being aware of mental health support services survivors can be signposted to, and treating survivors with compassion and respect.

Blue Monday comes and goes, but the damage caused to our mental health by domestic abuse is more persistent. It might be more challenging to recover from, but certainly not impossible. With access to the right support, it is possible to re-gain a sense of life purpose, happiness and self-esteem.

At Broxtowe Women’s Project, we understand the effect that domestic abuse has on the mental health of survivors. We also know how to help them improve their situations. There are no miracle cures here, just small steps towards a more positive and happy future free from fear, abuse and unhappiness.

If you or anyone you know has been affected by domestic abuse, we are here to help. Tel. 01773 719111 www.broxtowewomensproject.org

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