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The Relationship Between Domestic Violence and Mental Health

Domestic violence is a serious problem in the United States, affecting nearly 10 million people each year. It is estimated that one in four women and one in nine men are victims of domestic violence. Domestic and family violence encompasses child abuse, intimate partner violence and elder abuse. 

The effects of domestic violence have far-reaching implications, not only for the victim, but also for their family, friends or other loved ones who may be exposed or aware of the abuse. Abuse can affect the way we feel about ourselves, the way we take care for ourselves, and how we interact with others. Beyond that, domestic violence can also have a profound impact on our mental health and sometimes lead to serious and/or chronic mental health conditions.  

The relationship between domestic violence and mental health is closely intertwined – cyclical, even. You see, persons with an existing mental health disorder are far more likely to find themselves the victim of domestic abuse than those without. In turn, domestic violence victims without a prior mental health condition have a high risk for developing one.  

Domestic Violence Risk for Persons with An Existing Mental Health Condition 

People with a mental health disorder have a significantly higher risk of becoming victims of domestic violence compared to the general population. Research suggests… 

  • 30-60% of women with a chronic mental illness have experienced domestic violence. 
  • Women with an existing depressive disorder are 2.5 times more likely to be domestically abused, over women with no mental health condition. 
  • This figure increases to 3.5 times more likely for women with an existing anxiety disorder. 
  • And, up to 7 times more likely for women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 
  • Increased risk is also associated with women with eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental health problems. 

There is also an increased risk for men with a chronic mental health condition to become victims of domestic violence, over men without. However, studies and statistics for men, on this matter, are limited and much harder to find.  Their risk is believed to be comparable to that of women with mental health conditions. 

 What we do know though, is it is not common for men to withstand repeated domestic abuse. 

How Domestic Violence Can Affect Mental Health 

Domestic violence is a terribly sad and emotional reality in many homes across America - and the world. Understandably, victims often experience an array of overwhelming emotions, even after being freed from the abusive home or relationship. It is important for victims to find emotional support to help them enact healthy ways of processing and healing from their trauma.  

Individuals who have endured physical or mental abuse are at high risk for the development of mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.  

Psychological effects of domestic violence: 

  • On average, more than half of the women seen in mental health settings are or have been abused by an intimate partner. 
  • Common diagnoses among these women include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. 

Other domestic violence effects that contribute to poor mental health: 

  • Trauma can often produce other acute and lasting changes in physiology, arousal, emotion, cognition, and memory. These changes wouldn’t necessarily result in a psychological diagnosis but can negatively affect mental health. 
  • Victims may also experience a loss of agency, meaning they no longer feel in control of their life or what happens to them. This can create feelings of hopelessness or cause them to “shut down”.  

If you, or someone you know, is the victim of domestic violence, we encourage you to seek help. Here are some national and local resources to help.  


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