Effects of violence, trauma on mental health
Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse
As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.
Trauma involves an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.
Violence in the home or domestic violence is one of the most traumatising experiences as the violence is often perpetrated by someone who one is supposed to trust and feel safe with. As we prepare to commemorate this year’s 16 Days Against Gender-Based Violence, we can reflect on the mental health impact of Gender Based Violence particularly violence experienced in the home.
What causes violence in the home?
Risk factors associated with becoming a perpetrator of gender based violence include:
- being male.
- having been abused as a child.
- witnessing violence in the home as a child.
- having an absent or rejecting father.
- mental health challenges, including depression, alcohol and substance abuse.
Relationship factors that can cause violence in the home include:
- an uneven balance of influence and power in the relationship with one partner being very domineering or controlling.
Community factors that can promote violence in the home include:
- poorly managed financial challenges.
- breakdown of communities and increased social isolation.
- societal norms about violence, domestic violence, gender roles and perceptions about femininity and masculinity.
How does violence in the home affect our mental health?
Violence is traumatic, violence from an intimate partner can be devastating to the victim as well as others in that home and can result in alteration in one’s personality and ability to maintain one’s mental wellbeing.
Someone experiencing violence in the home may experience a negative view of oneself with poor self-esteem and poor self-confidence.
They may feel helpless and hopeless. They may blame themselves and feel ashamed about the abuse.
They may develop anxiety and depression. They may self-medicate with alcohol, substances and food. They may become hyper-vigilant, anxious, and re-experience the violence which are symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Children may react differently to violence and trauma in the home.
They may experience attachment problems, becoming clingy or overly independent, tearfulness, irritability, multiple physical complaints (like stomach pain or headaches), acting out aspects of the trauma while playing, social withdrawal, school refusal, resentment, disrespectful and disruptive behaviour, nightmares and sleep problems.
Children and adolescents may also blame themselves inappropriately for the trauma they are experiencing.
How can I help someone who is experiencing violence in the home?
- Create a safe conducive space to allow them to communicate about their experiences and what they are feeling.
- Maintain confidentiality.
- Be empathetic and non-judgemental and listen attentively.
- Ensure the victim receives appropriate care for any physical injuries.
- Explore possible resources and support structures the person already has that can assist them to get appropriate help.
- Provide information about relevant support networks for domestic violence, connect them with these services if they are willing and provide emergency numbers to call when needed.
- Maintain close contact and follow them up often.
If you or someone that you know may be struggling with a mental health condition as a result of domestic violence, please contact your nearest healthcare provider and get help.
Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist.
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