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Why society must overcome mental health and domestic abuse stigma

Domestic abuse is a real and common occurrence in many homes nationwide. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.[1] Victims can experience mental health issues, especially those related to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The stigma surrounding domestic abuse and mental health issues is a significant problem that often hinders progress in addressing these critical concerns. Both domestic abuse and mental health problems affect individuals across various demographics, causing women to experience misunderstanding, judgment, and discrimination due to prevailing stigmatization. Survivors need support, not shame.

Nevertheless, survivors of domestic abuse often face blame, skepticism, and even disbelief when sharing their experiences. This can lead to a reluctance to disclose what's happening to them or to seek help when there are available resources.

What causes the stigma so many face as survivors and victims? This stigma arises from societal misconceptions and victim-blaming attitudes that place the burden of responsibility on the survivor rather than holding the abuser accountable for their actions. Exposure to violence and abuse increases one's risk of experiencing mental illness mentioned above, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. It can even precede substance use and suicidal behaviors.

But just like domestic abuse victims, women with mental health issues are frequently stigmatized. When this happens, they can experience discrimination and marginalization at a time when they are most vulnerable. Additionally, misunderstandings and stereotypes about mental health can result in people reacting to those with mental health issues out of fear, judgment, and avoidance. Such reactions can prevent individuals from seeking help and receiving the support they need.

At it’s root, the stigma surrounding mental health problems stems from a lack of awareness, fear of the unknown, and societal pressure to conform to perceived norms of mental well-being. So often, as with domestic abuse, stigmatization can prevent women from openly discussing their struggles, which may worsen their conditions and impede their recovery. Only recently have we begun to embrace the idea that "It's okay, not to be okay."

Our goal is to help raise awareness about various aspects of domestic abuse. It's important to know that because of the stigmas surrounding these public health crises, the mental health needs of domestic abuse victims often go unmet. Moreover, the systems that victims and children turn to are frequently unprepared to give them access to proper safety and to heal from their trauma. Addressing the needs of victims requires a multi-pronged approach from mental health and social service providers, community advocates, and the larger community.

The Women's Advocacy Center aims to help restore a woman's emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Our AIM Program assists clients with their basic needs, invests in their overall well-being, and mentors them in healthy relationships. Our goal is to educate women on gaining economic independence and forming healthy relationships while stabilizing their families and strengthening their faith.

Our training for organizations and nonprofits will help educate you and your team on some of the critical aspects of domestic abuse. Contact us today to learn more about these services or how you can help us share hope and change lives.

[1] National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010 Summary Report

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