Women’s Aid respond to the Department of Health and Social Care’s consultation for the new mental health and wellbeing plan
A few months ago, the government asked the public and organisations to contribute to its new plan for providing mental health support in England over the next ten years through its Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan. As we know, domestic abuse has a detrimental impact on survivors’ health, including their mental health, so it was vital for Women’s Aid to respond. During the consultation, the government asked for evidence on promoting positive mental wellbeing, preventing mental health conditions, proposals for early intervention and improving the quality and effectiveness of mental health treatment.
To inform our submission we spoke to a variety of our member services and drew from the findings from our two literature reviews in 2021, ‘Mental health and domestic abuse: A review of the literature’ and ‘Reframing the links: Black and minoritised women, domestic violence and abuse, and mental health – A review of the literature.’
We know that domestic abuse and violence against women and girls is the main driver of women’s poor mental health:
“about one in every 20 women in England (1.2 million women) has experienced an extensive pattern of physical and sexual violence and abuse across their life… [and] Of these, over half (54%) have a common mental disorder and a third have attempted suicide (36%)” .
Yet, mental health support for domestic abuse is not sufficient or prioritised, despite the fact that it costs the health system £2.3 billion per year. Domestic abuse is primarily treated as a criminal justice issue, but it must be seen through the lens of health and treated in a holistic way in order to provide long-term and meaningful support to survivors.
Throughout the consultation response we used testimonies from our member services who are showcasing good mental health support:
“Rochdale Women’s Welfare Association, one of our specialist member services who provide counselling services for survivors have said that they use a model that centres domestic abuse, requiring the service to offer longer sessions to form trust between the survivors and the therapist so they feel able to confide in them. They argue that this is not possible in the six to eight sessions that is often offered by statutory services. One member told us that they offer survivors 22 counselling sessions so there is enough time to delve into the abuse without abruptly ending the support after 6 or 8 sessions, as is typical for counselling provided by the NHS. For this service, this model has been successful as it gives survivors the length of time, they need to start their journey of recovery.”
In our submission, we recommended a suite of measures to the government to ensure better support for mental health is available for survivors of domestic abuse. Our recommendations included:
- Domestic abuse and its impacts on survivors’ mental health should be recognised as a public health priority, as recommended by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence and Abuse .
- The Plan should include a requirement for all public services that come into contact with domestic abuse survivors to work collaboratively with specialist domestic abuse services to ensure that survivors are receiving holistic support.
- The Plan should include a commitment to ensure sufficient investment in specialist domestic abuse services – both refuge and community-based support – so they are equipped to deliver mental health support to survivors as part of a holistic and long-term support journey.
- More research should be undertaken to understand the link between suicide and domestic abuse.
- All health care professionals should receive mandatory specialist domestic abuse training to be able to safely ask about domestic abuse, respond to disclosure in a supportive way, and ensure women are able to access the specialist services they need to escape and recover.
- Sustainable funding for translation support and multi-lingual therapists should be guaranteed. Research indicates that the availability of sensitive and sympathetic support in appropriate languages with ‘unspoken’ understanding is crucial to enable women to rebuild their lives .
- The NHS should be properly resourced to provide longer term and trauma-informed counselling support – survivors want mental health support to be available to them when they need it, without having to face long waiting times. They also want it recognised that recovery often is not short-term.
You can read our full consultation response here, and see our work on domestic abuse and mental health as part of our flagship campaign, Deserve To Be Heard. Read our new research report ‘Are you listening? 7 pillars for a survivor-led approach to mental health support’.  Department of Health and Social Care and Agenda (2018), The Women’s Mental Health Taskforce: final report, London: DHSC
 All Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence and Abuse (2022) The Road to Recovery: Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Domestic Abuse Survivors, London: Women’s Aid
 Thiara, R.K. and Harrison, C. (2021) Reframing the Links: Black and minoritised women, domestic violence and abuse, and mental health -A Review of the Literature. Bristol: Women’s Aid