Domestic abuse and mental health
by MITA MISTRY
ACCORDING to the Office for National Statistics, 1.2 million women and 700,000 men experience domestic violence each year. And during lockdown, calls to police for help with domestic abuse, from both men and women, were received every 30 seconds.
Domestic abuse often happens behind closed doors without anyone knowing, and it can be brushed under the carpet. But the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the sheer increase in numbers and amplified the awareness of its occurrence. Indeed, it shouldn’t take a pandemic to acknowledge that domestic abuse happens. Equally concerning is the devastating effect it can have on the mental health of adults and children.
In fact, according to new research, women who have experienced domestic abuse have three times the risk of developing a mental illness, including conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, compared with those who have not. But not only is domestic abuse a risk factor for mental health disorders, women with existing mental health issues are more likely to be targets for domestic abusers.
Other studies show exposure to domestic violence has a substantial impact on children’s mental health too. Research also highlights a strong connection between poorer education outcomes and higher levels of mental health problems.
Sadly, domestic abuse can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender, sexuality or race, and it can take many different forms like psychological, economical, sexual, coercive control, physical or technological. But the main behaviour pattern of the abuser is designed to control the partner and isolate them, making it difficult to seek support.
You may ask, why don’t they just leave? In cycles of abuse, it can be incredibly difficult to leave for a number of reasons and perhaps, the biggest is fear, and danger. That fear victims feel is very real – there was a rise in the chance of violence after separation, with 41 per cent of women killed by a male partner or former partner in the UK (2018). And sadly, victims may be unable to leave for other practical reasons.
Perhaps for south Asian women and men with close extended family ties, there are added layers of complexity to the abuse. Sometimes, it’s not just enduring abuse from a partner, other family members can also abuse the victim. In these situations, victims often feel traumatised, scared of bringing shame to the family and have low self-confidence from continually being told they are unworthy. And they have little control, particularly when the abuse is happening in their own home.
That said, the outlook for recovery can be optimistic as long as we support and empower victims of domestic abuse to make the best decision for them. When someone is being abused instead of telling them to swallow their tears, help stop the abuse. When victims break through the shame and begin to tell their story, which they are often reluctant to do, they have the opportunity to discover that many have walked a similar path. Trauma makes people hide, sometimes from themselves. Let them know, they are not alone. I hope victims of abuse find safe spaces to share their truth. There is healing there.
If you are suffering from domestic abuse you can call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline on free-phone 0800 2000 247 or visit www.refuge.org.uk