Domestic violence and abuse often have a devastating effect on mental health, not only for the victims, but also for their children.
The links between DVA and mental health deep rooted and far reaching. Our flagship intervention, IRIS, trains healthcare professionals to recognize the signs of DVA, and ask the question to patients who may have come to see them about matters including low mood, depression and anxiety. More often than not, these issues hide a far bigger problem.
To mark Mental Health Awareness week, we asked Mel Goodway, National Implementation Manager for the IRIS project, about her experience of DVA and mental health, and the importance or recognising gender- based violence as a health care issue.
“During my time as a front line DVA support worker I rarely worked with women who were not experiencing a mental health impact as a result of their situation. In fact, I struggle to recollect a single case. Women would frequently use the term “mental torture” to describe the abuse they were experiencing or had experienced. Many women reported anxiety and depression, and unsurprisingly given their daily circumstances. We know that mental health consequences are by far the most common and longstanding health impact on women who experience DVA, with abused women being 7 times more likely to experience PTSD.”
“Recovery from an abusive relationship is not immediate. The emotional and psychological impacts span for months, even years after the abuse has ended. Women report feeling a loss of self-confidence, self-worth, the ability to become independent again and build new relationships, just to name a few. Many of the women I supported referred to ‘emotional scars’ and most women who reported both physical and emotional abuse felt the impacts of behaviours like coercive control lasted with them for much longer and were harder to recover from.”
“It is almost impossible to understand how anyone would not recognise domestic abuse as a mental health issue when we reflect on the repeat physical and emotional trauma that victims go through. Imagine living in an environment where you are afraid of every action you make for fear of physical violence and/or a barrage of verbal battery. Where you are continually living on edge and constantly adapting your behaviour so there are no repercussions. This is what it is like for many women living with domestic abuse and we cannot ignore the impact this kind of environment will have on a persons emotional and mental well-being.”
“At present 3 women a week in the UK will commit suicide as a result of experiencing domestic abuse.”Mel Goodway
“This figure does not include the amount of attempted suicides per week. Additionally, we know women are likely to use other harmful methods to cope with their poor mental health such as self-harm or substance misuse. These figures are significantly increased in abused women compared to non-abused women.”
“A report collating the data from all our IRIS sites nationally shows that across 2018-19 63% of service users reported experiencing mental ill health, generally experiencing depression and/or anxiety. Several service users reporting self-harm and some reported suicidal thoughts. This number was far higher than those who reported a physical health issue, disability or problems with alcohol or drugs.”
“DVA and mental health are intrinsically linked. As such, we at IRISi, are passionate about ensuring there is not only a health care response to gendered based violence, but one that this is appropriate and safe with a direct route to support.”