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  • Dr Aditya Shah

Consequences of domestic violence on women’s mental health

Since time immemorial, domestic violence has been a social evil deeply ingrained in our society. The so-called ‘Men of the house’ have considered it as their birthright to hit their partners-a pardonable way to let out their angst towards life. Amidst this patriarchal mindset, women find themselves trapped and helpless. While some are left with bruises and contusions, many are left with mental scars and horrors for their entire life. I have frequently seen my house help aunt cry in despair when her husband hits her. She often complains to my mom about how she is beaten and forced to give away her savings so that her husband can buy alcohol and live his life. She is always in deep worry about her child’s upbringing and education.

Every day many women worldwide are facing similar problems. A problem so grave that it has led to an increase in the incidence of various psychiatric disorders like Depression, Anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Domestic Abuse or Intimate partner violence has negatively impacted women’s ability to live happy and productive lives. An eminent psychologist, Dr. Lenore Walker aptly describes the mental state of women via her theory ‘The Cycle of Abuse’. As per the theory, the first stage is ‘Tension’ - where the woman is under extreme stress and desperately trying to placate the partner. Constantly living such a life on eggshells can have a deleterious impact on the woman’s mental and physical health. The second stage is ‘Incident’, where the woman becomes a victim of the abuse. Various studies have shown how such experiences lead to the development of PTSD in the future. The third stage of the cycle is ‘Reconciliation’ where the partner tries to apologize for his actions. And the fourth stage is the ‘Calm/Honeymoon’ phase where the partner behaves as if everything is fine and the incident is forgotten. Unfortunately, the third and the fourth stage lead to the further perpetuation of the Cycle of Abuse, leaving the woman trapped in it.

Globally, approximately 245 million women—almost one in three—have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life. As a consequence of this, an alarming number of women suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV. Many of these women have committed suicide or were even killed at the hands of their partners due to physical and/or sexual abuse. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated this issue. According to a 2021 United Nations Report, one in two women reported having experienced violence or knowing a woman who has, since the pandemic. These data confirmed the presence of a Shadow Pandemic amidst a viral pandemic.

It is our moral responsibility to uproot this social evil. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put forward certain policies to combat Domestic Abuse. Teaching healthy relationship skills, creating a protective environment, and supporting survivors to increase safety and reduce harm are a few ways to deal with this issue.

Domestic violence and its impact on women’s life has been beautifully portrayed in movies like Darlings and Thappad. In ‘Darlings’, we find the protagonist dealing with her troublesome husband in the most innovative way, while Thappad boldly portrays how important it is to raise our voice against the wrong. The protagonists in both these films were always in the dilemma of choosing between love and self-respect. Their anguish was palpable. The way the women in the film have dealt with this evil is commendable.

As you read this article, there are many women who are currently being subjected to cruelty by their partners. Let us pledge to take steps in creating an environment where women can live safe and healthy life. Their mental and emotional health is our top priority.

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