by Anindita Dasgupta, Sakhi Media Intern ::
The desire for survivors of domestic violence to educate themselves about mental health issues was vividly apparent at one of Sakhi’s latest direct services programs. On May 31st, survivors gathered to discuss various self-help strategies to help them maintain their mental health. The workshop was led by Dr. Sarah Gundle from St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital and Bibi Shah from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
“Survivors approached us about this workshop, said Fatma Zahra, a Sakhi’s Domestic Violence Program Advocate. “It’s clear that they are very serious about this and that it is really important to them.” The workshop was one of Sakhi’s most well-attended sessions, with 11 survivors present. The facilitators focused the discussion around how mental health trauma affects work and family relationships and various ways of coping with these issues.
“One of the things we discussed in the session was grounding and using it to alleviate and tolerate distress,” said Dr. Gundle. Grounding can help one to regain control over a stressful situation. For example, in a moment of crisis, one could imagine oneself in a safe space or get in touch with their physical senses by running cold water over their hands or listening to music, Fatma explained. The danger in not grounding oneself or not emotionally detaching from such a situation is that it can inhibit a person’s ability to take care of themselves. Maintaining one’s mental health is especially important for survivors of domestic violence, said Fatma, as they often deal with stresses from multiple areas every day.
The group discussed another approach, which helps people free themselves from trauma at a deep emotional level. “Hopefully the women took that away as a concrete step to take when they experience pain in their lives,” said Dr. Gundle.
The facilitators provided survivors with a list of information to help them identify signs of anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, and ways of coping with them. The group discussed coping strategies with the facilitators, reminding the survivors that these disorders were treatable and do not necessarily have to be long-term conditions. “Talking about trauma is so important because understanding and processing a traumatic experience means that it no longer holds destructive power over one’s life,” Dr. Gundle said.
Stats on PTSD and DV
Domestic violence, which has physical, sexual, and emotional dimensions, is deeply entwined with mental health issues.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2002), approximately 44 million Americans experience diagnosable mental disorders each year. The National Institute of Mental Health (2001) reports that roughly 5.2 million American adults develop PTSD. The Department also reported that PTSD rates shortly after sexual assault can reach as high as 94 percent.
One U.S. study (footnote 10) examining the connection between PTSD and domestic violence showed that 55.9% of the 93 sampled survivors met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. A separate study (footnote 11) in Australia examining 100 women survivors living in shelters found that 45 met the same diagnostic criteria.