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How Gender-Based Violence Affects Mental Health – and How We Can Help

People sitting in a circle in group therapy. Each person's hands are shown clasped together

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. During this month, we come together to raise awareness about mental health, fight stigma, educate others, provide support, and advocate for people affected by mental illness. It is also a good time to raise awareness about how domestic abuse, sexual violence, stalking, and other forms of gender-based violence can affect mental health.

Gender-based violence is a specific type of physical and emotional abuse, assault or harassment targeting a person's gender, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation. Examples of gender-based violence include:

  • Domestic violence, including physical, emotional, sexual, and/or financial abuse (also referred to as intimate partner violence)

  • Sexual harassment

  • Sexual assault

  • Stalking

  • Human trafficking

  • Some types of bullying

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 20% of survivors of intimate partner violence develop mental health conditions such as major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or substance use disorder. Victims and survivors of sexual violence may also experience mental health issues such as depression, PTSD, flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, substance use disorder, and sleep disorders. Other types of gender-based violence – such as stalking – may cause similar mental health issues.

Importantly, there is no one “right way” to be a victim or survivor of gender-based violence. People experience trauma differently – even people who have gone through the same (or similar) thing. Trauma affects you differently depending on whether you have experienced it once, repeatedly, or over the course of time. You may experience some initial reactions to gender-based violence, such as feelings of exhaustion, confusion, sadness, agitation, and anxiety. You may not even experience any obvious symptoms in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic experience.

Delayed trauma responses are also incredibly common, particularly for physical, sexual, or emotional abuse suffered at a younger age. In fact, scientists have recently discovered a potential brain circuit that may be responsible for a condition known as dissociative amnesia, a psychological defense mechanism that causes a victim or survivor to split off a painful memory from their conscious awareness.

Dealing with the mental health effects of gender-based violence can be difficult for many people. Whether the abuse happened decades ago or recently, it can be challenging for anyone to work on healing through therapy or other forms of counseling. Fortunately, it is never too late to seek help.

At Blackburn Center, we offer a range of services to victims of all types of violence and crime. Our services are available to those impacted by violence, and all are provided at no charge to clients. Our services include:

  • A 24 hour hotline, staffed by trained crisis counselors: 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available);

  • An emergency shelter for victims of intimate partner violence and their children;

  • Counseling and therapy;

  • Support groups;

  • Medical advocacy/accompaniment to provide support at hospitals and medical facilities;

  • Legal systems support to accompany victims of violence or crime to hearings, trials and other significant court dates; and

  • Civil legal services.

All of our services are or can be accessible.

We understand that experiencing any type of violence or abuse can lead to a host of related issues, such as depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD. Our goal is to help you heal in a trauma-informed way, which means that we incorporate an understanding of how trauma affects the life of victims and survivors and a sensitivity to the triggers or vulnerabilities that victims and survivors may have. Our policies and procedures are client-centered, with goals established by the victim/survivor, not the counselor.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, know that there is help. If you are a victim or survivor of any type of violence, abuse, and/or crime, we are here for you. Call anytime at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available) to speak to a trained crisis counselor. All calls to our hotline are free of charge and can be anonymous.


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