Island Forum | Identifying signs of domestic violence

When a woman calls to ask for counseling and says she is depressed, one of the first things I wonder about is if she is being hurt by someone. Certainly there are many reasons that people become depressed, but trauma from an abusive relationship is often a factor in women’s depression. Similarly, most women receiving inpatient substance abuse treatment have been exposed to domestic violence in some form.

Domestic violence can have serious consequences to one’s mental health. Carole Warshaw, M.D., executive director of the Domestic Violence & Mental Health Policy Initiative, recently spoke at a statewide domestic violence conference about the impact of constantly living “under siege.” Experiencing trauma is a “threat to our psychological integrity.” Victims of violence can suffer depression as part of post-traumatic responses. They can be hyper-vigilant and easily startled, forever seeking ways to keep themselves and their children safe. Decision-making and coping with stress become more difficult. The risk of suicide is greater. Even more unsettling is that abusers often use these normal responses to trauma to maintain control over the victim by telling her that she is crazy or that no one will believe her fears.

According to Patti Bland, a domestic violence advocate and chemical dependency professional at the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, women often begin alcohol or other drug use as a result of traumatic life events. If someone is being hit, threatened or coerced, she might drink or use other drugs to cope with feelings of fear, pain and hopelessness. And because the use of alcohol or other drugs can impair judgment, a victim who is using has less ability to assess the safety of herself and/or her children.

As members of the Mercer Island community, we too can help by being available to our family, friends, and neighbors who might need us to listen. It’s okay to ask them, “Are you being hurt by someone?”

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Please join us a in ending domestic violence in our community.

For more information, call Eastside Domestic Violence Program at (425) 746-1940 or the Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-562-6025.

Gayle Erickson is the Clinical Supervisor at Mercer Island Youth and Family Services, a department of the City of Mercer Island. She can be reached at (206) 275-7611.

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