Intimate Partner Violence & Women’s Mental Health

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Intimate Partner Violence impacts health physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Last week, we spoke about the importance of emotional health in helping you guard against a potentially violent partner. This week we will focus on the mental health conditions associated with Intimate Partner Violence. Violence in partner relationships has a negative impact on the mental health of intimate partner survivors. One of the mental health consequence most frequently connected to intimate partner violence is posttraumatic stress disorder. However, intimate partner violence also highly increases one’s risk for developing depression, substance abuse, suicidal tendencies, and anxiety.

Please note that the descriptions below can be present regardless of whether you are experiencing or have experienced intimate partner violence. There are a number of circumstances and events that result in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, substance abuse, and anxiety. In knowing how these conditions present themselves, we can better identify whether we notice any symptoms in ourselves. Knowledge of what to look for as we self-reflect enhances our self-awareness. And self-awareness is key in determining whether we need to seek help to heal and become healthier women. We will start with PTSD.

Note: symptoms for each mental health condition are listed by the APA and were researched in articles listed at the bottom of this blog.

8 Criteria of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

  1. Have you had exposure to any traumatic event that involved actual or threatened death, serious injury, sexual violence, or a threat to you or another person, which resulted in intense fear, helplessness, or horror?
  2. Are you persistently re-experiencing the traumatic event(s) (e.g., repeated and distressing memories or dreams)?
  3. Do you notice signs of persistent avoidance (e.g., efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, conversations, people, places, activities, objects, and situations associated with the traumatic event(s))?
  4. Have you recognized negative changes in your thoughts and mood linked to the traumatic event (e.g. inability to remember a key piece of the traumatic event(s), exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world)?
  5. Has your arousal increased (e.g., one’s ability to fall or stay asleep, difficulty concentrating, irritable and self-destructive behavior, and angry outbursts)?
  6. Have any of your symptoms lasted more than 1 month?
  7. Has the traumatic event caused significant distress or impairment in your social, occupational, and other important areas of life?
  8. Your disturbance is not due to the physiological effects of a substance or another medical condition.

Depression Disorders

Depression is characterized by sadness, emptiness, loss of interest or pleasure, irritable mood, feelings of diminished self-worth, lethargy accompanied by bodily and thought changes that significantly disrupts one’s ability to function, which could lead to suicide.

The above listed symptoms closely mirror the experiences of many intimate partner violence survivors, who often report feelings of hopelessness and helplessness in their relationships, decreased self-esteem, betrayal of safety and trust, and uncontrollable, threatening, and hostile environments. Therefore, there is a likelihood of depression among intimate partner violence survivors.

Substance abuse

Substance abuse is usually used to refer to any problem with substances. However, there is a difference between substance abuse and substance dependence. Let’s take a closer look at this and honestly examine whether any of these apply to us.

Substance abuse is characterized by at least one of the following:

  1. Does your substance use result in failure to fulfill obligations (e.g. work, parenting)?
  2. Does your repeated substance use result in situations that are physically dangerous (e.g., driving)?
  3. Does your substance use result in repeated legal problems (e.g., disorderly conduct)?
  4. Do you continue to use substances despite repeated problems from it (e.g.., arguments with people)?

 

Meanwhile, substance dependency is characterized by at least three of the following:

  1. Has your amount of substance use increased?
  2. Are you unable to control your substance use?
  3. Does your substance use interfere with your responsibilities (e.g., home, work, and parenting)?
  4. Is your time heavily devoted to using substances?
  5. Do you need more of the substance to get the same effect (tolerance)?
  6. Has other areas of your life been damaged by your substance use (e.g., health, social life), but you continue to use?
  7. Do you experience physical withdrawal symptoms if you stop using the substance? Also, do you use the substance to try to manage your withdrawal symptoms? 

Anxiety Disorders

The common features of anxiety disorders are excessive fear and anxiety. Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, which is more often associated with thoughts of immediate danger and escape behaviors; with fear, your nervous system is involuntarily stimulated—which can result in fight, flight, or freeze responses. On the other hand, anxiety is the anticipation of future threat. Anxiety is more often associated with muscle tension, alertness in preparation for future danger, and caution or avoidance.

Co-Occurring

Let’s quickly revisit the first mental health condition that was previously listed—posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is important to know that PTSD rarely occurs alone; in the context of intimate partner violence, PTSD can co-occur with depression, substance abuse, and anxiety. To consider intimate partner violence a single category is far from reality; it is a very complex experience of violence and it has a negative impact on the mental health of intimate partner survivors.

Do these symptoms sound familiar?

If you notice any of these in yourself for any reason, it may be time for you to seek help. To struggle with any of these things is not equivalent to being crazy. To get the help you need is not weakness, it is the greatest thing you can do for yourself. I do not want to pressure you either, so if you are not ready, that is okay. You know what’s safest for you; in your time, you will do what is best. I’m in your corner either way! Next week, we will further discuss what to look for when seeking help and coping strategies as we end an unhealthy relationship.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Dutton, Mary Ann (2009). Pathways Linking Intimate Partner Violence and Posttraumatic Disorder. Trauma Violence & Abuse, 10, 211-224. Doi: 10.1177/1524838009334451

Najavits, L.M. (2002). Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health: Fact Sheet. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/FactSheet_IPVTraumaMHChronicIllness_2014_Final.pdf

Perez, S., Johnson, D.M., Wright, C.V. (2012). The Attenuating Effect of Empowerment on IPV-Related PTSD Symptoms in Batter Women Living in Domestic Violence Shelters. Violence Against Women, 18, 102-117. doi: 10.1177/1077801212437348

Satyen, L., White, M.E. (2015). Cross-cultural differences in intimate partner violence and depression: A systematic review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 24, 120-130. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.avb.2015.05.005

Korisma Grant

Korisma Grant, LLMSW