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Physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological violence can cause both immediate and long-term health related problems and distress. Persons that endured abuse or experienced a traumatic event may experience latent metal health problems as it relates to the abuse. Violence or the threat of violence can lead to serious mental health problems, including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, panic attacks, and anxiety. Some people that have experienced violence may experience flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or nightmares in response to the violence or trauma. Unfortunately, some people that have endured a violent experience or ongoing abuse and violence may try to numb the emotional pain associated with the abuse and trauma by using drugs, alcohol, smoking, or overeating. This maladaptive form of coping with trauma can lead to greater physical and emotional problems and concerns.

It is not uncommon for survivors of violence to re-experience symptoms related to the event, experience latent effects of the past trauma (even when they did not experience it immediately following the event), or continue to experience symptoms long after it has occurred. Even if many years have passed since you were abused, you still can get help from a mental health professional to manage ongoing symptoms or symptom re-emergence.

Both battered women and men that have endured abuse and trauma may experience mental health consequences or may be diagnosed with a number of illnesses, including depression, anxiety, panic disorders, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD develops as a response to a traumatic event or events, such as battering, threat of violence, death, etc.

Symptoms are generally divided into three types:

  • Intrusive flashbacks (vivid images of past violence or negative events that often appear real) or nightmares
  • Avoidance, including inability to remember an event or lack of emotion (flattened affect)
  • Increased arousal, manifested as startle reactions, inability to concentrate, and insomnia.

The effects of PTSD can make it extremely difficult for the survivor to trust others as well as their own judgment. Failure to trust others can make it difficult to seek help and to cooperate with those trying to help or guide you toward effective services. Persons that have been abused or are actively being abused may withhold information about the abuse, minimize the abuse, refuse disclosure of mental health history, or other important details because of lack of trust, ability to remember, or recount events. Individuals suffering from PTSD often find it difficult to see the battering as a past event even when they have successfully gotten out of that environment. Viewing the abuse or violence as a past event although the individual has escaped may occur because the abuse or event is occurring over and over again in their mind.

Those with knowledge or experience in domestic violence laws recognize the probable correctness of the person’s assessment of imminent danger, but mental health professionals may see the insistence on the immediacy of the survivor’s fear and trauma as a symptom of mental illness. Depression has long been recognized as one of the more common psychic injuries of battering. Experts estimate that between 37 percent and 63 percent of battered women experience depression. The symptoms of this disease include depressed mood, lack of interest in everyday activities, indecisiveness, inability to concentrate, fatigue, insomnia, feelings of worthlessness, or thoughts of death or suicide. It is important to recognize some of these symptoms may be present in a victim who has experienced even one episode of domestic violence.

Many survivors of trauma suffer in silence, believing that severe depression, suicidal urges, and auditory hallucinations mean that they are “crazy.” But the truth is, these symptoms–as well as panic attacks, hypervigilance, social phobia, self-mutilation, eating problems, recurring nightmares, flashbacks, and substance abuse–are often the lingering results of trauma. The effects of trauma are often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Living with PTSD can be scary, frustrating, and discouraging. Many people feel hopeless. Treatment options can be confusing, expensive, and yield results that are painfully slow. However, effective treatment can help survivors of abuse and trauma mitigate symptoms related to the abuse or event. Treatment can allow the survivor to once again gain control over his or her life as well as identify techniques to reduce the likelihood of symptom re-emergence.