Domestic Violence and Mental Health

Woman standing with her eyes closed looking sad

Dealing with the mental scars of abuse

Anna started seeing LifeWire’s Mental Health Therapist because she was experiencing symptoms of severe trauma. She felt numb and disoriented, had trouble focusing at work, and was having panic attacks.

Abuse, whether physical or psychological, can affect survivors’ mental health. People who experience trauma because of domestic violence are at significantly higher risk for PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Survivors may also try to escape pain and depression with substance use or consider suicide.

Mental health issues can also be used as a tool for abusive control. For instance, an abuser might control their partner’s ability to get treatment or use a diagnosis to discredit a survivor in court, impacting legal or custody claims. Survivors suffering from trauma may also have difficulty when interacting with the court system. Survivors dealing with anger, numbness, forgetfulness, and substance use may appear less impacted or less credible than those who cry or speak softly. Yet, everyone experiences and expresses trauma in their own way.

DV-informed mental health care

Given all of these complexities, coping with mental health issues while escaping domestic violence can be overwhelming. It is important that survivors receive therapy from a professional with the skills and experience to take a person’s history with domestic violence into account and to mitigate risks.

Working with a DV advocate can also help. Evidence has shown that survivors who receive help that makes them feel safer—like new housing or a protection order— see a decrease in their mental health symptoms.

After several sessions with her LifeWire therapist, Anna began to make substantial improvements and reported feeling calmer and hopeful for the future. She now feels like she has a safe place to talk about her experiences with a therapist who understands the complex dynamics of domestic violence.