From March 5 to 12, 2023, advocates across the United States, as well as across the globe, will celebrate No More Week to show a commitment to putting an end to domestic violence and sexual assault. This awareness week will call attention to domestic and sexual abuse, encouraging allies across the world to stand up against violence. This large-scale media awareness campaign will also involve a virtual 5k race, and advocates can purchase merchandise, such as shirts, mugs, and tote bags, to show their support for this effort. As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of this campaign in 2023, it’s time to call attention to the mental health effects of domestic violence.
What is domestic violence?
Before jumping into the mental health effects of domestic violence, it’s important to understand what it involves. Common misconceptions surround domestic violence, such as the belief that it’s not violence if there isn’t physical assault.
The truth is that domestic violence can take many forms, and the United States Department of Justice defines the following types of domestic violence:
- Physical abuse: This is probably what comes to mind first when people think of domestic violence. This form of abuse involves physical behaviors, such as slapping, punching, kicking, burning, grabbing, or pulling hair.
- Sexual abuse: Also a form of domestic violence, sexual abuse involves coercing a partner into sexual activity to which they do not consent. This can be as extreme as rape, including marital rape, or it can involve behaviors such as touching or caressing someone without their consent. Some perpetrators may force a victim to have sex after an act of physical violence, or they may threaten to leave or commit an act of infidelity if the partner does not comply with their sexual demands.
- Emotional abuse: While it may not be as obvious as physical and sexual violence, emotional abuse is also a form of domestic violence and can take a toll on the victim. Emotionally abusive tactics include constant criticism, name-calling, and other attempts to diminish a person’s self-esteem.
- Economic abuse: This form of domestic violence involves attempts to harm a partner financially. This could involve controlling the finances, stealing money from a partner, or withholding financial resources. A partner who engages in economic abuse may forbid their significant other from having a bank account, restrict their access to joint accounts, or prevent the person from having a job to maintain financial independence.
- Psychological abuse: Perpetrators who engage in psychological abuse will use tactics to instill fear in their significant other. This could include threats to harm the partner or their children, destruction of property, intimidating behavior, or isolating the person from friends and family.
- Technological abuse: Finally, technological abuse involves the use of devices like phones and computers to intimidate or mistreat a partner. A technologically abusive partner may monitor their significant other’s Internet activities, break into email accounts, or install location-tracking devices to monitor their partner’s whereabouts at all times.
How Domestic Violence Impacts Mental Health
Whether it’s physical, psychological, economic, or sexual, domestic violence is psychologically damaging and can cause significant consequences for the mental health of the victim. While both men and women can become victims and experience poor mental health from domestic violence, research shows that women are a little more than twice as likely as men are to experience physical or sexual violence in a relationship.
Regardless of gender, being a victim of physical or psychological violence is associated with the following outcomes:
- Substance misuse
- Chronic mental health problems
Depression and other mental health problems can arise in response to the distress of being exposed to ongoing abuse and violence. Over time, the partner’s intimidation tactics, threats, and physical or verbal assaults can take a toll on a person’s self-esteem and sense of safety. Some people may attempt to self-medicate poor mental health with drug and alcohol misuse.
A study with women victims of physical and psychological violence found a range of negative mental health outcomes associated with being a victim of violence:
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior
- Somatic symptoms
- Sensitivity to the emotions of others
- Depression & Anxiety
- Development of phobias
- Psychotic symptoms
- Hostile behavior
The bottom line is that experiencing domestic violence can have a significantly negative impact on mental health functioning for victims.
Domestic Violence & Trauma
Among the other mental health consequences associated with domestic violence is an increased risk of trauma-related symptoms. In fact, a review of the research shows that around 64% of survivors of domestic violence show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but some studies have found even higher prevalence rates of PTSD among survivors. Some research suggests that domestic violence survivors experience a more severe form of PTSD called complex PTSD, which transcends the core symptoms of the disorder.
With complex PTSD, survivors experience some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, along with additional changes in emotional and behavioral functioning:
- Difficulty with emotional regulation, leading to unhealthy self-soothing methods, such as substance misuse, self-harm, and risk-taking
- Abnormalities in attention and consciousness, which can manifest as amnesia, disconnecting from oneself, and out-of-body experiences
- Poor self-perception, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-worth
- Difficulty trusting and being intimate with others
- Somatic and medical problems, such as chronic pain, digestive issues, sexual problems, and cardio-pulmonary symptoms
- Feelings of despair and hopelessness
Reaching Out for Help
If you have been a victim of domestic abuse within your home, there is help and support available. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is an excellent resource. If you’re in crisis, you can call, chat, or text hotline staff 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The Hotline’s website also provides a search tool that helps you locate local resources, such as counseling, emergency shelter, support groups, and advocacy services.
If you’re looking for mental health support in the Southern California area, Mission Harbor Behavioral Health is here to help. We have offices in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara and offer outpatient mental health services for adults and teens. Our staff is trained in trauma-informed care, and they can provide professional support to help you overcome the mental health effects of domestic violence. Contact us today for a no-cost, confidential assessment with our admissions team.