Many survivors of intimate partner violence face complicated barriers to accessing mental health services. While survivors face many challenges in their mental health journeys (including availability and financial barriers), one major challenge is the compounded stigmas of accessing mental health assistance and being in a relationship with a perpetrator of domestic violence. Survivors may not want to access mental health assistance, because they are embarrassed about their relationship, are concerned that they will be judged or labeled a “bad parent,” or have rationalized the behavior. Additionally, survivors also face the same stigmas that many people in treatment or seeking help face; that people who seek out mental health treatment are “weak,” in “just in a phase,” or could solve their own problems if they just “tried harder.” A survivor may face judgment from friends and family, who both judge them for being in an abusive relationship and for wanting mental health assistance. These stigmas can prevent survivors from seeking the help that they may need and definitely deserve.
We can all do more to decrease these stigmas and encourage survivors to access mental health support. We can show compassion for those with mental illness by supporting them in their journeys, not being judgmental of their choices, and supporting their decisions to seek help if they want to. We can fight stigma by being conscious of our and others’ language. Make an effort to not use mental health conditions as adjectives or refer to people with mental illnesses negatively or with stereotypes. Educate yourself and others about mental health by talking to providers and reading reliable sources. Talk openly about mental health and respond to misperceptions. If you are comfortable, normalize seeking mental health treatment by talking about your own experiences. We can all do a little bit more to empower survivors by normalizing and encouraging mental health support.
You can learn more about mental health stigmas by visiting the American Psychiatric Association stigma and discrimination information page. More than half of people with mental illness don’t seek help for their disorders. Often, people avoid or delay seeking treatment due to concerns about being treated differently or fears of losing their jobs and livelihood. Stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness is still very much a problem.