Community of Hope

Impacts of abuse on mental health

Wed, 03/20/2024 - 2:00pm

Survivors of domestic abuse often experience impacts on their mental health. Sometimes these effects are temporary, and sometimes they can be long-lasting. According to the book, Intimate partner violence: A health-based perspective, studies done with survivors seeking support from domestic violence resource centers find that depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic disorder and anxiety disorders are common in the aftermath of domestic abuse.  

Domestic abuse is a form of trauma, a distressing event or experience that overwhelms someone’s ability to cope. While experiencing trauma after such abuse is a normal human response to a harmful situation, it's important to remember that domestic abuse itself is never normal. Sometimes, trauma symptoms like memory lapses, difficulty regulating one's emotions, struggling with decision-making, and trouble concentrating, can appear to outsiders as signs of a mental illness. For many people, trauma can cause or exacerbate mental health issues. Ultimately, there is no one way that a survivor might react to or be impacted by trauma. For some, when the abuse stops and they can access safety and stability, their mental health also stabilizes and improves. For others, more in-depth support and mental health treatment are necessary to address the impact of domestic abuse on the survivor’s life.   

People who are abusive often intentionally undermine their partner’s mental health and stability as a means of controlling and isolating them. The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health defines “mental health coercion” as attempts to control one's partner through their mental health and it can take many forms:  

  • Making someone question their reality or undermining their sanity, often called gaslighting  
  • Degrading, putting down, or humiliating someone  
  • Shifting responsibility and blaming the survivor for the abuse, saying that the survivor caused the abuse or is the one who is abusive.  
  • Controlling access to medication and treatment  
  • Making it impossible to access help like counseling or peer support 
  • Leveraging a survivor’s mental health to discredit them with people who might otherwise be supportive 
  • Manipulating systems involved in survivor’s life to view them as unstable–such as the criminal or civil legal system or child protective services  
  • Making them think no one would ever believe them if they decided to share what was happening to them   


Having a mental illness may make it more likely for someone to experience abuse, but this is not because there is anything inherently wrong with them. It’s because people who are abusive seek out vulnerabilities in the people they are close to in order to gain more power over them. 

People who are abusive target survivors’ mental health because it is often a very effective way to isolate them and make them feel hopeless. Abusers can weaponize the cultural baggage and stigma around mental illness to make their partners feel like it’s not worth reaching out for support. However, at New Hope, we know from our work with survivors that having a mental illness or dealing with the impact of trauma doesn’t stop someone from being able to identify pathways to safety. Advocates can connect people with resources to support them in their journey to safety. We can talk with them about the impact abuse has on their life and their mental health and refer survivors who are looking for clinical support to counselors, case managers and other options. Visit or call the 24/7 helpline at 800-522-3304 to ask about services. 

New Hope Midcoast is one of Maine’s regional Domestic Violence Resource Centers and a member of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence. Our nonprofit organization supports people impacted by domestic abuse, dating violence, and stalking through housing and legal advocacy, education and prevention programs, and a 24/7 helpline. New Hope serves Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox, and Waldo Counties and empowers clients by providing options and treating everyone with care and respect.