Promoting Mental Health in the wake of domestic violence against Women

Sarita was a sophomore in college. She fell in love with a mysterious boy, who was fascinating. It was a perfect relationship-until one day she felt his hand on her face. He said, “You Stupid, if you were silent, that wouldn’t have happened.” From that moment on, her life was upset. She was psychologically, emotionally, and sexually abused. He humiliated her, talked about her overweight, and robbed her of all her power. She began to question her self-esteem, self-confidence, and the true purpose of life. She often thought of suicide. Sarita said that was the way for her, with tears in her eyes.

She didn’t tell anyone at first. She was embarrassed and ashamed and couldn’t say what she was experiencing. His family and friends worshiped him. He isolated her from her support system, the people who loved her and cared for her deeply. Contact with family and friends was limited. He monitored all her movements.

Eventually, she gained enough courage and power to talk to her friends. She left him and moved with one of her friends for a while, but the abuser persuaded her to return to him. He vowed to seek counseling and anger management programs, but he never did. He said everything right to get her back. She truly believed in him. She gave in to another chance.

No change has ever come. One day he put his hand on her neck and began to strangle her. It was like being possessed. He has vowed to kill her if she quits him. She saw herself dying in his hands.

It was the most horrifying time of her life. It was very difficult for her to start over without him, but she decided to move forward and live again. She went to a friend who helped her contact the trauma counselor. It took her a couple of months to recover from the trauma that she had from her husband. She took multiple counseling and therapeutic sessions and recovered mentally and emotionally.

Sarita is not the only one who has been a victim of domestic violence. Domestic violence and abuse (DVA) are major public health issues affecting the lives of people around the world. Violence against women is increasing around the world, triggered by the Covid 19 pandemic. But even before the pandemic, the World Health Organisation reported that nearly one in three women (about 852 million women worldwide) were exposed to violence at some point in their lives.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, 48% of Nepali women reported experiencing some form of violence at some point in their lives, of which 15% experienced sexual violence. This happens when a partner attempts to gain psychological and emotional control over a woman by insulting, controlling behaviour, verbal abuse and intimidating the woman.

There is a link between domestic violence and mental health problems. Mental health problems are a common consequence of domestic violence for both adults and children. And, there are mental health issues that can make a person more vulnerable to abuse. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that a substantial proportion of the people accessing mental health services have experienced abuse. Despite these strong associations, domestic violence often goes unnoticed in mental health services, and domestic violence services are not always able to assist those with mental health problems.

Women who have experienced domestic violence or abuse are at very high risk of experiencing a variety of mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide ideation. Physical and psychological abuse not only causes pain, but also psychologically damages and increases the risk of developing mental illness in women. Fear, anxiety and sadness are the usual emotions associated with domestic violence. Although these negative emotions do not automatically indicate mental illness, the effects of trauma can significantly alter a person’s memory, arousal and emotional and cognitive responses to the outside work. For many survivors, healing begins when they find that these symptoms are predictable, temporary and treatable consequences of the violence they survive.

Although domestic violence and abuse (DVA) are associated with an increased risk of mental illness, little is known about the mental health of female DVA survivors seeking assistance from domestic violence services.

Seeking Mental Health Services

Survivors should look for therapists, counseling groups and mental health services who are familiar with trauma and have experience dealing with the long-term effects of domestic violence. Treatment, counseling and support groups for survivors of domestic violence are not limited to those experiencing long-term effects such as PTSD and depression but are part of the mental health toolkit. Children affected by domestic violence can also benefit from talking to trauma-savvy professionals.

We can learn about how violence and mental health problems affect those close to us on an individual level. Being there in a supportive, non-judgmental role, listening and helping in finding resources are all good ways to break down the stigma and isolation that abused women often feel.

Domestic violence officers must be aware of the link between domestic violence and other adverse experiences and impacts and ensure that they respond to it. They need to hold local leaders accountable for providing support and intervention to victims/survivors and perpetrators with diverse needs (including mental health) and risks of all levels.

In addition to emphasizing the mental health issues faced by victims of domestic violence, there is a need to identify multidisciplinary interventions that can provide practical and timely solutions for victims of domestic violence amid the pandemic, ranging from personalized care strategies to educational programs, escape plans, legislation and regulations, and more technology-based mental health solutions. There is a significant need for more multifaceted and multidisciplinary strategies to address domestic violence during and after the pandemic, particularly interventions that could benefit from the ubiquity and cost-effectiveness of technology-based solutions.

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