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May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. Among the many issues surrounding mental health that will be discussed this month, the unseen consequences of domestic violence should also be considered and brought out of the shadows. Christians and the church need to take a place as this discussion unfolds, so they can recognize the battered woman sitting next to them and know how to help.

It’s not surprising that victims and survivors of domestic violence contend with mental health issues, but when I start looking at statistics, I am always shocked at not only how high the rate of domestic violence is, but also at the array of mental health consequences battered women face.

Here are some of the mental health issues battered women face according to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

  • 54% to 84% of battered women suffer from PTSD.
  • 63% to 77% of battered women experience depression.
  • 38% to 75% of battered women experience anxiety.
  • 67% of battered women seeking emergency medical support for injuries stemming from domestic violence had symptoms related to traumatic brain injury (TBI), and 30% had reported loss of consciousness.

Sadly, these numbers may be considered low, because according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report from 2017 only 56% of domestic violence is even reported.

Due to their abusive situation, many women do not receive any medical attention because their abuser often controls the finances and ability to access services. If they are able to get to medical care, important mental health screenings are often missed because there are no outward signs to warrant diagnostic tests.

Mental health issues battered women face don’t always present immediately or aren’t considered an outcome of domestic violence by some professionals. We have come to understand that football players and boxers are more likely than the average person to have a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but fail to recognize the on-going consequences from the amount of head trauma the average battered woman receives.

Survivors are treated as if simply getting physically and financially free of their abuser makes everything good. The reality is, there is a need to address the mental health issues which will continue to wreak havoc in their lives for a very long time as a result.

How can the church come along side survivors of domestic violence and give them the support they need in the healing process? The church needs to recognize that survivors of domestic violence have many needs, and they are interconnected. They are not either physical, mental or spiritual, they are intertwined.

In the short term, these are some of the immediate issues faced by women fleeing domestic violence:

  • Physical and financial needs. Many women, often with children, literally escape with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Survivors need assistance with housing, food, clothing, and basic bills.
  • Medical attention. Not all victims of domestic violence will show up with visible cuts and bruises. But that does not mean they don’t need medical attention. Survivor needs to have access to medical attention.
  • Legal support. The survivor may need immediate legal protection from her abuser in the form of restraining orders, etc. She will need assistance with navigating the legal system, especially if finances are a concern.
  • Emotional needs. It’s overwhelming to come from a situation where a domestic violence victim had little or no control over her situation to having to make every decision on her own. Survivors need someone to help them navigate, not tell them what to do, but help them work through the overwhelming amount of decisions they need to make. The trauma they are operating from cannot be minimized. It causes the survivor to react slow, have confusion, and be indecisive, among an array of other symptoms and issues.

In addition to all of the above basic requirements, in the long term survivors also have these needs:

  • Spiritual needs. Survivors need the grace, love, and protection found in the arms of Jesus, in His church. They need to be surrounded by a community of encouragement, faith, and hope, but first the church needs to be aware.
  • Mental health needs. These needs are on-going, and may include counselling, therapy, medication and other treatments. PTSD, depression, anxiety, and TBI are not to be taken lightly, and although I fully believe in miraculous healing, often times, God chooses to work through the medical community. Stigmatic judgements from the church, or expectations that some of the survivor’s issues will just go away with time aren’t realistic.

Survivors of domestic violence face many hurdles. These hurdles become even bigger challenges when having to be crossed with the burden of unaddressed and debilitating mental health issues. The hurdles become unpassable when hidden and unseen mental health trauma from domestic violence is minimized or overlooked.

How can you help? Become aware of the issue and needs of women and children who are victims or survivors of domestic violence. Know what resources are available in your community. Don’t pre-judge. Each domestic violence situation is different. Be aware, be open, be available.

Further reading:

May is Mental Health Awareness month, but with so many plugging their way through these issues, it will still be just as important in June.

How are you coping with mental health issues? Is the church helping? If not, what could we do as a church to make a difference?

Thanks for visiting Called by Name. He has called you by name; you are His. (Isaiah 43:1)