October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is joining our federal partner agencies in raising awareness of domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence) throughout our nation. We are committed to addressing domestic violence prevention, treatment and recovery for survivors. This year, we are joining the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Family Violence Prevention and Services (OFVPS) and the National Domestic Violence Hotline in promoting the hashtag #1Thing, which encourages everyone to do just one thing to raise awareness about domestic violence. That one thing could be sharing awareness messages on social media, bringing training about domestic violence into our workplaces, or reaching out to a friend or family member who may be experiencing violence and abuse.
On May 25, 2023, the White House Gender Policy Council released the National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence: Strategies for Action (PDF | 1.6 MB) to address domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking, and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV). The document is a call to action for federal agencies to assess their progress on these issues and amplify their efforts to do more. SAMHSA was a major contributor to developing this National Plan and its launch gives SAMHSA the opportunity to shine the spotlight on the link between GBV, mental health, and substance misuse.
The link between GBV and its impact on behavioral health is strong. GBV survivors – including domestic violence survivors – are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, substance misuse disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide attempts. Many survivors also experience disruption in their lives, which is often called complex trauma. In complex trauma, survivors’ relationships with others are affected because of not being able to fully trust others. Survivors also might have less ability to manage their emotions. They may also carry a strong sense of self-blame and shame for what they have endured.
The impact of domestic violence is complicated by the fact that the abuse is often not in the past, but something survivors must deal with day-to-day. There are often safety concerns, forcing them to focus on surviving, instead of thriving. Their abusers might have isolated them from family and friends or made them completely dependent on them financially. Survivors may even be emotionally manipulated or have mental health or substance misuse issues that are being used against them. This can be especially challenging for individuals who experience chronic mental illnesses or substance misuse.
Additionally, children growing up in households with domestic violence often experience instability, that can lead to mental health and substance misuse issues of their own. The number of people experiencing domestic violence is high.
As cited in the National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, about 41 percent of women and 26 percent of men reported having experienced, at some point in their lifetimes, contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner that resulted in an intimate partner violence-related impact (including, for example, injury or concern for safety, need for housing or legal services, or help from law enforcement). Some populations, including American Indians/Alaska Natives and other people of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) people, are especially affected by domestic violence for a variety of reasons, including bias and discrimination and less access to effective services.
Given how often domestic violence happens, it’s likely that many of us know someone, either in our own families or among our friends or work colleagues, who have been directly impacted. Every person has the right to live free of abuse and violence. SAMHSA is committed to supporting programming that teaches healthy relationships and clear and empowered communication, which helps to prevent domestic violence and other forms of GBV.
In cases where the right to be free of abuse has been violated, SAMHSA supports and promotes behavioral health services that are respectful of individual cultural health beliefs, practices, preferred languages, health literacy levels and communication needs that take into account the specific form of trauma they’ve endured.
The good news is that support and treatment for survivors do work. Recovery to live a fulfilling, productive and happy life is more than possible. During Domestic Violence Awareness Month and beyond, SAMHSA will continue to examine ways in which our agency can focus on the issue even more and to join our partners to make a difference.
For more information about SAMHSA’s work in gender-based violence prevention and support for survivors, visit Gender-Based Violence and the Effects on Behavioral Health on SAMHSA.gov. To find support for domestic violence, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline and SAMHSA’s Find Help.
To access a calendar of events and resources for activities, online toolkits, educational materials, webinars, social media engagement, and resources that can be shared nationally, visit the ACF OFVPS Domestic Violence Awareness Month Portal.