Part I: The Effects of Intimate Partner Violence on Mental Health

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Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles exploring intimate partner violence. On Oct. 19, we will address the challenges of leaving an abusive relationship.

As we near the midpoint of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the statistics for intimate partner violence are haunting.

President Barack Obama recently noted that about three women die each day in the United States at the hands of domestic violence. The White House also launched a campaign on dating violence to attempt to help bring awareness to the issue and reduce violence against women. The tagline this year is “1 is 2 Many,” and the focus is on women ages 16-24—the age group most likely to be affected by sexual assault and dating violence, according to statistics. One in 10 female teens will be abused by a person she is dating, and one in five young women will be a sexual assault victim while attending college.

Despite awareness and prevention efforts for intimate partner violence, about one in four women have been subjected to severe physical violence by a significant other, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey shows that, statistically, women are victims of intimate partner violence more often than men. However, about one in seven men report suffering severe physical violence from a partner.

For most domestic violence victims, the abuse doesn’t stop with bruising or bleeding. Many victims also experience mental health issues, such as symptoms of posttraumatic stress, headaches, and sleep difficulties, according to the CDC survey.

Experts share more about the link between mental health and domestic violence:

  • Lynn Fairweather, author of Stop Signs: Recognizing, Avoiding and Escaping Abusive Relationships, is a former abuse victim. She now advises professionals at her training firm, Presage Consulting & Training, on how to assist with domestic violence cases that are high-risk. She said by e-mail that women who are victims of intimate partner violence, including acts of rape and stalking, are more likely than other women to experience mental health issues. The more violence women are exposed to, the greater the likelihood of mental health problems. “Common mental health issues experienced by victims of domestic violence include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and posttraumatic stress,” Fairweather said. “These problems manifest in symptoms such as flashbacks, hypervigilance, a high startle response, nightmares, insomnia, substance abuse, and self-harm or suicidal behaviors.”
  • Adwoa Akhu, a clinical psychologist in New York, said in an e-mail that domestic violence victims might also feel guilt and experience low energy and persistent crying, as well as fear, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness.
  • Gary Direnfeld, a social worker, said in an e-mail that the cultural focus generally is on the physical aspects of domestic violence, while the longer-term emotional and psychological effects are sidebars. He cited personality disorders along with depression and anxiety as possible effects, and said depression often is associated with feelings of being imprisoned in a hopeless situation, an environment in which abusers make them feel worthless and unworthy. “Anxiety is the outcome of spending years walking on eggshells, never knowing if you will set off the behavior of the abuser,” Direnfeld said. “The abused worries about all aspects of her life and how it relates to keeping a sense of calm in the home.” When victims of abuse attempt to leave a relationship, they might worry about a potential increase in violent behavior if caught by the perpetrator. “Personality disorders result from the distorted thinking that crystallizes in the abused as she accepts the abuser’s view of the world and is made to think that her views on family life are not normal as compared to the abuser,” Direnfeld said.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • ashley m

    October 12th, 2012 at 11:57 PM

    the fact that even dating violence has gone up is alarming!these men who indulge in dating violence will almost certainly go on to be violent in their marriage as well.and what does that mean?more women suffering.this problem is compounded by the fact that young women hardly report such cases.

    silence is not going to help and speaking up against the perpetrator should become the focal point.we need to stand united against these people who not only bruise the victim’s body but also her mind and soul.

  • braden

    October 14th, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    IPV never affects one aspect of a woman’s life in isolation.Not only does it hurt the woman physically and sexually but also affects their mind.And once that happens other areas of their lives are affected as well.

    While the perpetrator may walk away without guilt or regret the victim goes through hell after even one such episode and this could scar her for a long long time.These crooks need the most severe punishments to deter them and the victims need help and support for not just their physical health but for their mental health as well.Because even after the wounds have healed on the body the inner hurt and wounds culd well be fresh in the victim.

  • CdnExpat

    October 14th, 2012 at 9:28 PM

    This is a great post that would be exceptional if it were neutral, more accurately reflecting the issue. Consistently talking about IPV from the perspective of gender does considerable harm to the efforts to address domestic violence. The propensity to violence in relationship is a HUMAN flaw, not a gender-based one. Furthermore, when the issue is not considered from a holistic perspective, the “abuser/victim” cycle is perpetuated, often meaning that the symptoms are addressed, not the underlying issue. And the underlying issues include not just the habit of resorting to violence, but the habit of accepting a relationship which includes violence. In the 25 years I have worked with couples and IPV, I don’t remember a single case where the signs of the potential for violence were NOT present prior to establishing intimacy (marriage, cohabiting, common-law etc). This is an issue which requires therapeutic intervention on all levels, without the bias of gender hindering the ability to accurately understand the relationship dynamics.
    Both Ashley M and Braden are correct in their comments, except that all of the issues mentioned apply to men, too. This is not about denying that women experience IPV – it’s about the need to address the issue based on what’s really happening, which allows for effective, timely interventions to be put in place no matter which partner is the victim and which is the abuser. Sadly, when it’s the woman doing the violence, there are few resources available for either partner.

  • madeline

    October 15th, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    fairly easily to hide and to cure a wound or a scar but never that easy to hide or to cure the effect violence has on one’s mind.there is no denying that such violence and especially from one’s partner will go on to affect the victim’s mind in a very negative way.these cowardly men are causing double the harm,both physical and mental.and that should entail double the punishment as a result!

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