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The role of mental illness in domestic violence

By Kay Daneault

Victims of domestic abuse, as well as perpetrators, can be any gender or age. They also can come from any demographic, social status or level of education. The relationships of intimate abuse can be complicated by feelings of love and affection for the other person. Typically, the perpetrator exhibits a level of control and manipulation over the other individual. 

Similarly, mental illness does not discriminate, as it can happen to anyone. However, there are a wide range of risk factors that may influence mental illness. Mental Health First Aid, a national program, contributes to the understanding of biological, environmental, and psychological factors that affect the development of a mental illness. Examples of biological factors include genetics, infections and brain defects or injuries. Environmental factor examples include divorce, death or parental substance abuse. Psychological factors such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse also can cause mental illness. However, none of these guarantee a mental health diagnosis. 

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that seven out of 10 psychologically abused women display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and/or depression. Mental illness often can be rooted in childhood trauma. When substance use is involved, rates of violence and mental illness development increase substantially. 

Our society has created stigma around mental illness, largely due to the way violence and mental illness are portrayed in the movies and on TV. It gives the public solace to feel that someone who has demonstrated violence always has a mental illness. However, there is not as much correlation as we may think. Several studies over the years have examined whether mental illness is a contributing factor to violence. A World Psychiatry article from 2003 holds true today, indicating that “mental illness is not a sufficient cause for the occurrence of violence.” Some individuals with mental illness can be more vulnerable and easily manipulated. Stronger levels of coping skills, outside support and protection can positively impact the recovery process. 

As the state affiliate to Mental Health America, the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi offers a link to mental health screenings on its website. Several anonymous screenings are available to identify conditions like depression, anxiety and PTSD. They can give an idea of whether further help is advisable, but they are not meant to diagnose. Access these tools at https:// 

Traumatic events can increase the risk of mental illness, such as depression and anxiety, as well as suicide. Crisis support is available any time through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or by text to 741-741. For questions, please contact MHASM at (228) 864-6274 or 

Kay Daneault is the executive director of the Mental Health Association of South Mississippi. Reach her at 

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