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Is it in my head?

Coping with domestic abuse when living with a mental health issue.

Trigger Warning: This article contains references to domestic abuse, violence and suicide. Support organisations and helplines are listed at the end of the article.

At the moment, we’re told that the safest place to be is home. For those who experience domestic abuse that damages their mental health, it can feel more dangerous than ever. Recent figures from the National Domestic Abuse helpline show that calls rose sharply through the first Covid-19 lockdown, with more than 40,000 calls made in the first three months alone.

Abuse and mental health issues can be intertwined in a number of ways. Office of National Statistics data in 2017 shows that women who experience domestic abuse are more likely to experience a mental health problem, while women with mental health problems are more likely to experience abuse. Worryingly, these findings only give a small indication of a much larger problem: we know that all genders can experience domestic abuse and often, it goes unreported.

Knowledge of our own mental health issue can often undermine our confidence to recognise what we are experiencing and even encourage damaging thoughts when we are at our lowest, like “is it me?” or even “did I deserve this?”

How can I recognise abuse?

Abuse can be emotional or physical and carried out by anyone who takes advantage of the trust you place in them. Most commonly in the UK, abuse is reported in the home against a partner, which is the focus of our blog today.

When trying to pinpoint abuse, relationship charity Relate suggest it’s useful to think less about a partner’s behaviour and more about “how it makes you feel”:

Someone could be abusive if they use your mental health issue to stigmatise, isolate or emotionally and physically harm you. For those living with dementia or severe mental health issues, abuse can also take the form of neglect.

How might my mental health issue be used to abuse me?

If you are experiencing a mental health problem, an abuser might use your mental health issue to make you feel useless, lonely, excluded or even to excuse their own hurtful behaviour. Women’s Aid suggest a few examples of this:

How can I cope with abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic?

No one should ever ‘put up with’ domestic abuse, but you may feel that you need more time to explore your options, seek support or put a plan (such as potentially leaving a partner) in place. During this time, you can:

How can I break the cycle?

You may feel your situation feels like a never-ending cycle: experiencing abuse can worsen the symptoms of your existing mental health issue, which limits your ability to cope and therefore leave you vulnerable to further abuse.

It’s important to remember that being a victim of abuse, even when experiencing a mental health problem, is valid. You don’t have to reach a point of crisis or an emergency situation before seeking help. Being honest about living with a mental health issue will also ensure access to any specialist support you may need.

The professionals that may already help to support your mental health, like a GP, Solent Mind practitioner, Councillor or Community Mental Health Team will not judge you and will work to support you and help keep you safe. If you would like to chat anonymously at first, you could also contact Samaritans who can provide a listening ear for all kinds of issues, even if you do not feel suicidal.

Local Services

Any advice to self-isolate due to Coronavirus will not apply if you need to escape from domestic abuse and you will not be in trouble. During the pandemic, Pharmacies will also offer their consultation rooms as safe spaces where you can contact specialist services for support and advice from their telephone.

If you live in Southampton or West Hampshire, Yellow Door can provide therapy, advocacy and support services to those who are currently or have previously experienced domestic abuse.

Stop Domestic Abuse can offer advice over the phone as well as emergency refuge accommodation in Portsmouth.

If you are currently accessing a service provided by Solent Mind, your Practitioner or Advisor can also recommend useful local resources.

Helplines & Apps

Download and use the Bright Sky app listed above for practical advice and local resources

The Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 for confidential, non-judgemental information and support, 24/7, 365 days a year

A specialist Men's Advice Line is available on 0808 8010 327 (Monday and Wednesday, 9am to 8pm, and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 9am to 5pm)

If you identify as LGBTQ+ you can call Galop on 0800 999 5428 for emotional and practical support.

In an emergency, call 999. From a mobile phone, press 55 after the call connects to speak directly to a police handler who will only use yes or no questions.

If you would like to explore any domestic abuse websites without detection, Women’s Aid have a useful article on covering your tracks online.

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