As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, it is important that we reiterate the profound impact of domestic abuse on mental health and well-being. Domestic abuse is not only a threat to physical safety. Too many look for the presence of physical wounds or scars as evidence of abuse, forgetting that domestic abuse can be insidious. It can impact every part of a victim’s life, leaving deep emotional scars that are not always visible to the outside world and might take even longer to heal than the physical ones. It is essential to understand the various forms that abuse can take and the impact it can have on victims/survivors.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), an estimated 2.3 million adults aged 16 to 74 were subjected to domestic abuse in the year ending March 2021 in England and Wales alone. Women were twice as likely as men to have been subjected to domestic abuse, emphasising the gendered nature of this issue. Domestic abuse can manifest in various ways and a victim/survivor may be subjected to multiple forms of abuse. Each victim/survivor’s story is unique, and it is crucial to provide support, validation, and resources to help them heal and break free from the cycle of abuse. In this post we will explore the intricate relationship between mental health and domestic abuse through the voices of five survivors, shedding light on the prevailing statistics which highlight the urgent need for support and change.
Gaslighting is a manipulative tactic that Sarah* experienced firsthand. Her partner would frequently deny events or conversations they had, leaving Sarah* questioning her own memory and sanity. As this manipulation persisted over time, it chipped away at her self-confidence, leaving her feeling powerless and doubting her own perception of reality. Gaslighting became a potent weapon used to control and undermine her sense of self, leaving her trapped in a web of confusion and self-doubt. Survivors like Sarah* often experience symptoms of anxiety and depression even after they have left their abusive partner. A study by SafeLives found that 80% of domestic abuse survivors reported symptoms of anxiety or depression within the first year of abuse.
"The trauma I experienced in the abusive relationship left me with crippling anxiety. I felt like I was constantly on edge, always expecting something bad to happen."
Micha* experienced the devastating impact of isolation at the hands of her abuser. Deliberately cut off from friends, family, and support networks, her abuser aimed to exert control and manipulation. Discouraging social interactions, monitoring phone calls and messages, or even relocating without her consent were all tactics employed to isolate her further. As a result, Micha* was left with a profound sense of loneliness and an increasing dependency on her abuser. The isolation made it incredibly challenging for Micha* to reach out for help, as her support system had been systematically dismantled. Many survivors like Micha* have spoken about the societal stigma and internal shame that prevented them from seeking help. Fear of judgment and the belief that she was somehow to blame contributed to the isolation and silence surrounding her experiences.
"I didn't want anyone to know what was happening behind closed doors. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, like it was my fault for not leaving sooner."
Anya* endured verbal abuse that left her feeling like a shadow of herself. Her abuser would employ a range of tactics, such as belittling, demeaning, and using insulting language, all aimed at undermining her self-worth. Anya* faced name-calling, constant criticism, and even mockery, deliberately designed to inflict emotional distress. The cumulative effect of these verbal attacks took a toll on Anya*, eroding her self-esteem and leaving her grappling with anxiety and depression. The weight of the words inflicted deep wounds on her psyche, perpetuating a cycle of emotional torment and self-doubt. The traumatic nature of this level of abuse can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in survivors like Anya*. Research suggests that around 74% of survivors meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD.
"Even after leaving the abusive relationship, I continue to have vivid nightmares and flashbacks. The fear and trauma are still very present in my daily life."
Emma* faced the horrifying reality of psychological abuse that pushed her to the brink of despair. Her abuser employed threats and intimidation as tools of control, instilling deep fear within her. These threats extended beyond Emma* alone, as her loved ones and even her beloved pets became targets of potential physical harm. The constant fear of the abuser’s unpredictable behavior created an environment of relentless anxiety, hypervigilance, and unyielding psychological distress for Emma*. Trapped in this suffocating cycle of abuse, Emma* found herself teetering on the edge, struggling with thoughts of suicide as the weight of the torment became unbearable. The impact of domestic abuse on mental health can be so severe that survivors may experience suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harming behaviors. A study conducted by Women’s Aid found that 63% of survivors have had suicidal thoughts as a result of abuse. According to another report by Safe Lives, 23% of survivors who had been supported through community services like The Haven, had self-harmed or planned/attempted suicide.
"There were times when I felt so helpless and trapped that I contemplated taking my own life. It was a dark place I never thought I'd find myself in."
Rochelle* experienced the suffocating grip of financial control imposed by her abuser. Through manipulation, he exerted power by restricting her access to money, refusing to contribute to household expenses, and even coercing Rochelle* to surrender her own income. This financial dependency created a sense of entrapment, leaving Rochelle* feeling helpless and incapable of breaking free from the abusive situation. Stripped of financial autonomy, she faced significant barriers to seeking safety and support, further deepening her sense of vulnerability and isolation. Limited awareness about the complexities of domestic abuse and its impact on mental health can further isolate survivors like Rochelle* and hinder their access to appropriate support systems. This emphasises the importance of education and empathy within society. It also evidences the need for the work that we do at The Haven which goes beyond responding by providing adequate support but also investing our expertise in early intervention and prevention initiatives.
"People often ask why I didn't leave. But they don't understand the psychological grip it had on me. It's not as simple as just walking away."
As evidenced by the stories above, addressing the critical issue of mental health in the context of domestic abuse requires a multifaceted approach. It involves raising awareness, challenging societal norms, improving support systems, and providing victims/survivors with safe spaces where they can share their experiences. We all have a role to play in breaking the wall of silence to create a world where victims/survivors no longer feel stigmatised, blamed, shamed and alone. By acknowledging the profound impact of domestic abuse on mental health and well-being, we can work towards a future where victims/survivors feel empowered to seek help, heal, and rebuild their lives free from the clutches of abuse.
Remember, if you or someone you know is being subjected domestic abuse, support is available. Our friendly team of advisors are available via our FREE helpline, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. You can reach out to them via 08000 194 400.
At The Haven, our counselling and well-being services include:
- 121 counselling and therapeutic support: tailored to the experiences and needs of each woman. Support can be provided in a number of different languages to ensure all women who need support can access the service.
- Peer-Group programmes: these include programmes for women with lived experiences of domestic abuse to come together to share and learn from each other; programmes to help build confidence and self-esteem, and encourage women to assert boundaries; and programmes to support women with strengthening bonds with their children away from the abuse.
"I feel like a tortoise coming out of my shell and heading toward a big blue ocean."
"Having that outlet to express myself was extremely beneficial to my healing. "
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
We are currently raising funds through the Big Give Campaign so that we can continue to support victims and survivors like those quoted above. Your donations will be doubled at no cost to you which means that the impact we can deliver would be twice as much. If you would like to find out more about this campaign or make a donation, please visit: bit.ly/havenmentalhealth.
Office for National Statistics (ONS): The ONS website provides official statistics on crime, including domestic abuse, in England and Wales. www.ons.gov.uk.
SafeLives: SafeLives is a UK-based charity working to end domestic abuse. They conduct research and provide support for survivors. www.safelives.org.uk.
Women’s Aid: Women’s Aid is a national charity in the UK dedicated to supporting women and children experiencing domestic abuse. www.womensaid.org.uk.