MHAW: “Survivors almost always report that the mental abuse has the greatest impact”

Trauma can affect how you feel about yourself and how you relate to others.

Women who have been abused are three times more likely to develop a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To mark Mental Health Awareness Week this year, we’ve asked our Counselling Coordinator, Kat, and our volunteer Counsellor, Bunmi, a few questions. 

In what ways does domestic abuse impact the mental health of survivors? (Are there patterns, diagnoses, during and after the relationship… long term effects?)

Kat: Many survivors of DA report suffering from anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. A diagnosis or symptoms of PTSD/trauma are also quite common. The effects of DA are long term and lead to a lack of self-esteem, self-worth and difficulty trusting anyone, which, affects all aspects these women’s lives.

Bunmi: The impact of abuse can be detrimental to the mental health of victims and survivors, both during and after the relationship. Many experience depression which manifests as a loss of interest in life activities, becoming irritable with self and others, tiredness, feelings of worthlessness, suicidal thoughts, sleeplessness, lack of concentration, and memory loss. The anxiety women we support experience as a result of their post-traumatic response following abuse includes feeling unsafe, seeing self differently, self-blame, avoiding.

At SATEDA, how do you work with women to support their mental health after abuse and why is it important for them to have this support?

Kat: I support the counsellors who support our clients. A part of my role is also to do assessments and ensure the women are having the appropriate service.

Bunmi: I provide counselling but I don’t work with the diagnosis. As a Humanistic Counsellor, I work with our clients to help them understand their symptoms and the effect this has on their mental health. The support we provide is really important following abuse as we work with the client to reconnect with themselves and recognise their inner abilities, as well as bringing their awareness to here and now. In my sessions I encourage positive and empowering self-talk and emphasise the importance of surrounding themselves with positive people.

Are there any common myths surrounding domestic abuse and mental health problems?

Kat: Many people believe that physical abuse is the worst, yet survivors of DA almost always report that the mental abuse has the greatest impact; with long lasting effects after the relationship is over. The most reported is the assumption of people around the victim of DA about the easiness of leaving the DA relationship/situation. DA has such an impact on the victim, they often believe (or have accepted) that there is no way out. Once out of the relationship the recovery also can take a long time.

What mental health advice (tips) would you give to a woman in an abusive relationship?

Kat: Seek support around you. If you haven’t got family or friends there are so many charities/organisations that are there to help and support you. Talk to someone regularly. Practice self-care (healthy lifestyle) as much as you can. Journal, seek an outlet. Seek things that are enjoyable and where you feel safe. Meditate/do breathing exercises/practice Mindfulness where you can.

Bunmi: As counsellors we don’t advise, we offer support when the women feel ready, there is so much information now circulating on social media around domestic abuse, women are advised to seek support, Sateda offered counselling support when the victims are out of the relationship

What mental health advice (tips) would you give to a loved one who is supporting a woman in an abusive relationship?

Kat: Similarly, I would encourage the person to seek support around them, to talk to someone trusted about the experience being a support to the friend. Be aware of becoming a ‘rescuer’ which is not helpful for the person in the relationship; make sure you keep yourself safe and boundaried.

Bunmi: Mental health support offered can be for the person is to seek medical help through their GP, talking therapy. Self–compassion.

How do you look after your mental health?

Kat: I talk to my friends and colleagues regularly. I eat healthy, go to bed early and exercise daily. I spend time in nature daily, practice mindfulness and meditate regularly.

Bunmi: Looking after Mental health comes with my awareness, recognising triggers in me, talking to my supervisor, or taking a break.