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May 12, 2023Mental Health and Domestic Violence
*This blog is sponsored by Raymond James, sponsor of the Family Justice Center by CASA’s Mental Health Suite.
Domestic violence is a pervasive and devastating public health problem that affects individuals and families worldwide. At CASA, we aim to empower survivors by giving them the tools they need to heal and rebuild their lives. This May, as we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s raise awareness about the intersection of domestic violence and mental health, and explore ways CASA can support and empower survivors.
Mental Health and Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is a deeply traumatic experience that profoundly affects the mental health of survivors. It is important to recognize that the blame lies solely with the abuser, and not with the victims. Survivors of domestic violence often endure severe consequences such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse, which can significantly disrupt their lives in multiple ways.
The effects of domestic violence can permeate every aspect of a survivor’s existence, including their ability to work, socialize, and maintain healthy relationships. The experience often leaves survivors feeling isolated and burdened with shame, making it incredibly challenging for them to seek the help and support they need. The constant fear of violence and abuse instills a state of hypervigilance and anxiety that can persist for years, even after the abuse has ended, but it’s important for survivors to remember these mental health effects are NOT THEIR FAULT.
Victims may also suffer from symptoms of PTSD, such as intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares, which further exacerbate their mental distress. It is crucial to understand that these conditions are a direct consequence of the abuser’s actions and the trauma they inflicted.
Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge that children who witness domestic violence, even when they are not physically attacked, are deeply affected. Studies indicate that between 60% to 80% of domestic assaults are witnessed by children. These children often develop mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and struggle with low self-esteem and difficulties in trusting others. These long-lasting effects can persist into adulthood and significantly hinder their ability to form healthy relationships.
In summary, domestic violence is an abhorrent act that causes severe trauma and has profound mental health repercussions for survivors. It is crucial to shift the blame onto the abuser and provide support and understanding to those affected, while also recognizing the long-term effects on children who witness such violence.
How CASA Is Addressing Mental Health For Survivors
Thanks to the support of Raymond James, CASA Pinellas is proud to offer comprehensive mental health services to survivors of domestic violence at our Family Justice Center. Survivors can receive trauma-informed care from licensed professionals who specialize in domestic violence, right on-site.
In addition, CASA Pinellas offers weekly support groups led by trained facilitators, where survivors can connect with others who understand their experiences and work through challenges in a safe, small-group setting.
We also provide mental health support for children of survivors through our partnership with Camp HOPE America. Our free mentoring camp gives children who have been exposed to trauma a chance to connect with real people who have overcome similar challenges, reminding them that they are not alone. Campers participate in a week-long overnight camp where they engage in fun, healing activities.
CASA Pinellas offers Pathway events once a month for future or past campers, and children who can’t attend camp. These events give children the opportunity to connect with others in the community who have been through similar experiences and work through trauma in a supportive and fun group setting, guided by trained advocates.
At CASA Pinellas, we’re dedicated to providing survivors and their families with the tools and resources they need to heal and thrive.
How Can I Help Someone I Suspect is Experiencing Domestic Violence?
Start the Conversation:
You can bring up the subject of domestic violence by saying that you have noticed some changes that concern you. Do not try to force the person to open up; let the conversation unfold at a comfortable pace. Take it slow and easy. Just let the person know that you are available and offering a sympathetic ear.
Listen Without Judgement:
If the person does decide to talk, listen to the story without being judgmental, or interrupting. Chances are if you actively listen, the person will tell you exactly what they need. Just give the person the full opportunity to talk. You can ask clarifying questions, but mainly just let the person vent their feelings and fears. You may be the first person in which the victim has confided.
Believe the Victim:
Because domestic violence is more about control than anger, often the victim is the only one who sees the dark side of the perpetrator. Many times, others are shocked to learn that a person they know could commit violence. Consequently, victims often feel that no one would believe them if they told people about the violence.
It’s not unusual for survivors to express conflicting feelings about their partner and their situation. These feelings can range from guilt/anger, hope/despair, and love/fear. If you want to help, it is important that you validate the person’s feelings by letting them know that having these conflicting thoughts is normal. But it is also important that you confirm that violence is not okay, and it isn’t normal to live in fear of being physically attacked.
Focus on Safety:
Let the person know that you are concerned for their safety. Help them to think about a plan of action should violence occur again and particularly if they are trying to end the relationship. Leaving a domestic violence relationship is often the most dangerous time for a victim. In fact, 77% of domestic violence homicides happen after a victim chooses to leave. Be as supportive as possible so when they are ready to leave, you are there to help.
Help the person identify risks and ways to reduce them. Information on developing a safety plan can be found here: www.casapinellas.org/get-help, or by contacting an advocate through CASA’s 24-hour hotline at (727) 895-4912 | TTY: (727) 828-1269.
Things to Say:
What NOT to Do:
Domestic violence has a significant impact on mental health. It is essential to recognize the signs of domestic violence and offer support and resources to survivors. By listening, believing, and offering assistance, we can help survivors of domestic violence heal and rebuild their lives. Let us all work together to #StandUpToSilence against domestic violence and promote healthy relationships in our communities.
Sources include CDC, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
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