Consequences of Abuse on Mental Health
Please be advised that this blog contains material on psychological/emotional abuse and sexual abuse, intentional acts of neglect, and trauma-related abuse. The topics of self-harm and substance abuse are also touched on.
Abuse and Mental Health
Abuse in any form of relationship may often result in the victim experiencing some form of trauma. Abuse-related trauma is when individuals have faced intentional neglect, violence, or sexual mistreatment throughout childhood or adulthood and have experienced a change in behavior or memory (CAMH, n.d.). It has been shown that trauma is a normal result caused by the experience of abuse as it can form ways in which the individual copes after the occurrence of abuse, which will be touched on later in the post. First, we will look at how being a victim of abuse in any relationship, such as intimate or parental, may increase the possibility of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. By looking at how abuse increases the chance of these mental illnesses forming we will also touch on how each of them can manifest in the individual who experienced abuse. Finally, this post will briefly touch on the unhealthy and healthy ways victims of abuse learn to cope with the trauma, anxiety, and depression caused by abuse.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Caused by Abuse
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can present itself when individuals experience direct violence or have witnessed any form of trauma, such as being exposed to death, sexual harm, or serious injury. Such experiences can cause PTSD but are also possible to present themselves when an individual has faced direct abuse at any point in their life (Staniloiu & Feinstein, 2017). For instance, PTSD can occur when facing domestic, sexual, or physical abuse.
Some ways to recognize whether a victim of abuse is experiencing PTSD could be through the four ways this disorder manifests: intrusion symptoms, avoidance, negative changes in mood, and changes in arousal and reactivity (Staniloius & Feinstein, 2017). Intrusion symptoms entail unexpected recollections related to the abuse or trauma, here is when individuals could have consistent flashbacks to the situation of abuse. Avoidance manifestations include conscious efforts to not think of memories related to abuse or trauma. Next, negative mood changes refer to victims feeling emotions of fear, guilt, and shame associated with their traumatic or abusive experiences. According to Staniloiu and Feinstein (2017), changes in reactivity refer to symptoms such as poor concentration, irritability, and impaired sleep.
Anxiety Caused by Abuse
When there is an extreme power shift in one individual in any relationship it can cause intense emotions of anxiety from confusion and frustration. As previously stated, abuse can manifest through forms of physical violence, emotional manipulation, and sexual and domestic harm, all of which expose the victim to greater chances of developing anxiety. With that being said, when individuals are neglected from basic needs in relationships, it leads to major anxiety (Peterson, 2021). When victims of abusive relationships recognize that they are feeling emotions of excessive worry, consistent fear, paranoia, obsessive thoughts, and more, it is important to understand that anxiety could be present.
Depression Caused by Abuse
According to Radell and colleagues (2021), abuse is one of the leading contributors to the onset of depression, as depression can be linked to the experience of emotional and physical abuse. Depression is a leading result of abuse because it affects the victim's growth, personality, cognition, and behavior, along with increasing their sensitivity to stress (Radell et al., 2021). For instance, abuse changes how individuals perceive themself and those around them, impacting their ability to have increased levels of self-esteem and creating complications in physical and mental development in younger individuals. The occurrence of abuse also generates hostile internal environments for the victim, such as increased pessimistic thinking, feelings of sadness, and social avoidance and isolation (Radell et al., 2021). Abuse can add to the victim's likelihood of developing depression as it creates intense feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and a loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities.
How Survivors Learn to Cope
Often younger survivors of abuse may not recognize that they are being mistreated by parents or partners because they have not come to understand what being properly cared for entails. This can result in various forms of possibly unhealthy coping strategies, such as dissociation, addiction, or self-harm in later years. Utilizing such unhealthy coping strategies may be a way for survors to distract themselves from flashbacks of abusive instances and avoid feeling as if they are reliving times of abuse. However, there are some healthy alternatives for coping with abusive relationships, such as identifying the abusive behaviors and patterns, creating a support system of individuals you can trust, and seeking the proper assistance to help remove you from the harm.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in relationships you could contact Victim 24/7 Support Line at 1-888-579-2888 or the Victims’ Justice Fund. There is also the Here 24/7 line available to anyone at any time within the Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge area, the phone number is 1-844-437-3247. If you need a support system you could also consider reaching out to our low-budget, affordable therapy here at RMTC. You may also contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (226) 894-4112 to schedule an appointment.
Peterson, T. J. (2021). How abusive relationships cause anxiety. HealthyPlace. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from https://www.healthyplace.com/anxiety-panic/relationships/how-abusive-relationships-cause-anxiety
Radell, M. L., Abo Hamza, E. G., Daghustani, W. H., Perveen, A., & Moustafa, A. A. (2021). The impact of different types of abuse on depression. Depression Research and Treatment, 2021, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/6654503
Recognizing the effects of abuse-related trauma. CAMH. (n.d.). Retrieved April 3, 2023, from https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/guides-and-publications/recognizing-the-effects-of-abuse-related-trauma
Staniloiu, A., & Feinstein, A. (2017). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 3, 2023, from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd-in-canada#:~:text=PTSD%20can%20arise%20in%20individuals,or%20loss%20of%20a%20job.