Mental Health and Domestic Violence


May is Mental Health Awareness Month. At Harbor House, we aim to help our staff and clients achieve holistic health. Holistic Health is about caring for the whole person — providing for your physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs. It’s rooted in the understanding that all these aspects affect your overall health, and being unwell in one aspect affects you in others. 

When someone experiences something traumatic, such as domestic violence, their entire bodily systems and all dimensions of wellness are impacted in some way; particularly one’s emotional and mental wellness.

Everyone has mental health. Whether that’s mental health concerns, mental health wellness, or somewhere in between. According to the CDC, mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. One’s ability to maintain their mental health can be changed by experiencing chronic stress, anxiety, fear, shame, and sadness that come with domestic violence. 

On average, more than half of the women seen in mental health settings are being or have been abused by an intimate partner. There are specific diagnoses that are commonly experienced by these women: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. In addition, traumatic events produce profound and lasting changes in physiological, arousal, emotion, cognition, and memory – changes that wouldn’t necessarily result in psychological diagnosis. 

A victim/survivor’s mental health can also be weaponized and used as another form of violence and harm. Mental health coercion is a commonly used tactic that is targeted toward the victim/survivor’s mental health as part of a broader pattern of abuse and control and includes: deliberately attempting to undermine a survivor’s sanity, preventing a survivor from accessing treatment, controlling a survivor’s medication, using a survivor’s mental health to discredit them with sources of protection or support, to manipulate the police or influence child custody decisions, or engaging mental health stigma to make a survivor think no one will believe them. Other common tactics that target mental health include other forms of emotional abuse, especially gaslighting. 

Approximately 20% of IPV survivors reported experiencing a new onset of psychiatric disorders such as major depressive disorder (MDD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a wide range of substance use disorders.

At Harbor House, we acknowledge the connection between mental health and domestic abuse. According to the CDC, during August 2020–February 2021, the percentage of those reporting unmet mental health care needs increased from 9.2% to 11.7%. Increases were largest among adults aged 18–29 years and those with less than a high school education. We also recognize the challenge that is emphasized in rural communities to access and receive services. According to the Southwest Rural Health Research Center, one in five adults struggle with a mental health illness, yet 75% of rural communities (communities with a population of 2,500 -20,000) lack a psychiatrist.  This is why we have placed an emphasis on being a part of the Mental Health Education Group for Chilton School District. We are excited that all schools in Calumet County will have a mental health-based program beginning in the Fall of 2021 run by Samaritan Counseling and Catalpa Health. We are focused on bridging the gap between individuals needing support and the organizations that can provide the support they seek. 

If you have any questions about our Calumet County Outreach Program and the work we are doing to address our community’s mental health as it relates to domestic violence, please reach out to us at 920.832.1667.