This May, Safe Havens honors Mental Health Awareness Month. The theme of Mental Health Awareness Month 2021 is "You Are Not Alone." This has a special meaning to Safe Havens, as we consider the isolating effects of domestic violence, and the positive impact supportive faith communities can have on victims and survivors.
Domestic violence, sexual violence, and elder abuse have an enormous effect on the mental health of victims and survivors. According to the Mental Health Foundation, being a survivor of domestic violence is associated with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse in adults, and with poorer educational outcomes and mental illness in children. Trauma can have lasting effects on the brain, resulting in flashbacks, changes in memory, decreased resilience, and increased responses to stimuli. Trauma also changes cognition, that is, the way we think. This means that people who have undergone trauma such as domestic violence might feel constantly unsafe, and may have trouble with anything from trusting others to leaving the house because of the trauma they’ve been through.
However, social support can be instrumental in improving the mental health of domestic violence survivors. According to an article in the Journal of Women’s Health, higher levels of social support lead to increased positive outcomes in domestic violence survivors, including better perceived mental and physical health, less depression and PTSD, and fewer suicide attempts.
That’s where our faith communities come in. Faith communities can be a strong source of social support for survivors of domestic violence, but knowing how to respond to survivors is important. When a survivor discloses domestic violence, faith and lay leaders can do several things to support them. First, leaders can show the survivor that they believe them. This simple step can make the survivor feel they have some power in a situation where they may have felt quite powerless, and help them feel less alone in their struggle. Second, faith and lay leaders can empower the survivor by allowing them to make their own decisions about what happens after the disclosure. Once again, this puts the power back into the survivor’s hands. Overall, faith communities can help increase the mental health of domestic violence survivors by enabling them to take whatever steps they believe are right for themselves following the disclosure.
This Mental Health Awareness Month, take steps to show survivors that “You Are Not Alone.” Talk about domestic violence in your faith community. Show survivors you support them and want to empower them. Together, we can increase mental health awareness, and support the mental health of domestic violence survivors.
Safe Havens’ guide to supporting survivors: https://a82d07d9-81fc-4a06-aee8-464d0da71159.filesusr.com/ugd/991f52_35392f4c3e624092ae107a4e69a5605b.pdf
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 or https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or https://www.thehotline.org