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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

This awareness month officially began in 1949 when Mental Health America launched Mental Health Week to educate people about mental illness and mental health. This week has since turned into an entire awareness month. May is a time to raise awareness of those living with mental or behavioral health issues and to help reduce the stigma so many experience. This year’s theme is “Together for Mental Health.” The goal of this awareness month according to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is that “together, we can realize our shared vision of a nation where anyone affected by mental illness can get the appropriate support and quality of care to live healthy, fulfilling lives.”



The Intersection of Abuse and Mental Health

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (52.9 million in 2020). There is also an overlap between mental illness and abuse, both for people who abuse and people who experience abuse. Here are three ways that mental health and abuse overlap:

  • Mental illness is often cited as a reason that people abuse.

  • However, mental illness DOES NOT cause abuse. As the National Center Against Domestic Violence states: “Abusive behavior in an intimate partner relationship and mental illness are two separate entities." There is never an excuse for abuse.

  • Mental health (or illness) can be used as a weapon.

  • Mental health coercion is a commonly used tactic and can include: "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 status to discredit them; manipulating the police or influencing child custody decisions; or engaging mental health stigma to make a survivor think no one will believe them."

  • Abuse can cause mental health issues.

  • People who have experienced abuse are at a higher risk of developing a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to several studies, “on average, more than half of the women seen in mental health settings are being or have been abused by an intimate partner.”

Resources for Supporting People Experiencing Abuse with a Mental Health Focus


There are many important resources to help people experiencing abuse. We have included a few resources below that focus on the intersection of abuse and mental health that are primarily directed toward advocates or people providing support for survivors rather than the survivors themselves.


Thinking about Trauma in the Context of DV Advocacy: An Integrated Approach” from the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, & Mental Health.


Coercion Related to Mental Health and Substance Use in the Context of Intimate Partner Violence: A Toolkit” “This toolkit provides trauma-informed guidance on integrating questions about mental health and substance use coercion into routine mental health and substance use histories and into in-depth intimate partner violence (IPV) assessments in primary care and behavioral health settings. This toolkit is intended to be used in conjunction with comprehensive guidance on trauma-informed approaches to screening, assessment, and brief intervention for intimate partner violence in healthcare, mental health, and substance abuse treatment settings (For additional guidance, see the resources section of the toolkit).”


Directory of Consumer-Driven Services This directory is a project of the National Mental Health Consumers' Self-Help Clearinghouse. The purpose of the directory is to provide consumers, researchers, administrators, service providers, and others with a comprehensive central resource for information on national and local consumer-driven programs. Such programs have a proven track record in helping people recover from mental illnesses.