Domestic abuse and your mental health

Domestic abuse can have an enormous effect on your mental health.

It is now well accepted that abuse (both in childhood and in adult life) is often the main factor in the development of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders, and may lead to sleep disturbances, self-harm, suicide and attempted suicide, eating disorders and substance misuse.

How your mental health can be used to abuse you further

If you have a mental health diagnosis, your partner may have used this to abuse you even more. For example, by:

  • Saying you couldn’t cope without him.
  • Saying you’re “mad”
  • Not allowing you to go anywhere alone because he is your “carer”
  • Speaking for you: “You know you get confused/you’re not very confident/you don’t understand the issues”.
  • Telling you you’re a bad mother and cannot look after the children properly.
  • Forcing you to have an abortion because “you couldn’t cope”.
  • Threatening to take the children away.
  • Threatening to “tell Social Services” – the implication being they will take the children away.
  • Telling the children “Mummy can’t look after you”.
  • Deliberately misleading or confusing you.
  • Withholding your medication.
  • Withholding or coercing you into using alcohol or drugs.
  • Undermining you when you disclose the abuse or ask for help: “You can’t believe her – she’s mad”.

These tactics will almost certainly add to your emotional distress and exacerbate any existing mental health issues.

Seeking help

If you have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, you will be in a particularly vulnerable position, and are likely to find it even harder to report domestic violence than other women.

You are likely to suffer from a sense of shame because of the stigma attached in our society to having mental health diagnosis of any kind, which may make you feel even more powerless.

Furthermore, the response of the service providers is also likely to be more problematic, due to the stigma of being “mental illness”:

  • They may not believe you when you disclose abuse.
  • They may see you only when your partner is present.
  • They may accept your partner’s account at face value.
  • They may feel sympathy for your partner – “After all he has had to put up with” – or blame you for the abuse.
  • They may judge you (particularly if you are self-harming or have attempted suicide, or if you use alcohol or drugs).

Don’t blame yourself your mental health difficulties are not your fault, and you are not responsible for the abuse: the abuser is.

You are entitled to help as much as any other abused woman, and if you have additional support needs, you should get help with them too.

Some refuge organisations are unable to offer accommodation to women with severe mental health needs because they have insufficient resources to provide suitable support.

However, other refuges will be able to accommodate you – and all refuge organisations should be able to find you somewhere else to go.

If you have decided to leave your abuser, you can visit our information and support page or you can access support from our Live Chat service (open 10am – 12pm weekdays). A member of our experienced team will be able to put you in touch with a refuge that can provide safe accommodation that meets your support needs.

Back to The Survivor’s Handbook

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