It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and this year, anxiety is the focus. Anxiety is a natural human response when we feel threatened or stressed, and for many victims of abuse, it forms part of a wider trauma response that can also include symptoms of depression, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In abusive relationships, perpetrators create an environment of fear, restriction and unpredictability, and as a result, victims live in a constant heightened state of alert, unsure of what will happen next or how their perpetrator will react. Over time this can severely impact victims’ mental health.
Male victims calling our Men’s Advice Line often talk about the anxiety they feel as a result of abuse and the impact it has on their sense of freedom. In our Living a Life by Permission report, a caller talks about the feeling of “walking on eggshells”, explaining that, “It got to the point where I was scared to do anything.” In another study exploring male victims’ experiences of abuse , one participant told researchers that “When she went off to work in the morning then I could relax, but I would feel tense around the time she was coming back around half past five.”
The impact of domestic abuse on victims’ mental health can also persist after the victim has left the abusive relationship. It can take time to adjust to living in a safe environment, especially if the abuse was perpetrated over a long period, and victims can feel ashamed and confused about why they responded the way they did. Some ask themselves “why didn’t I leave sooner?”, “why didn’t I fight back?”. For male victims, these feelings can be exacerbated by gender norms and expectations that tell us men should be “strong” and “in control”. Using expert, trauma-informed approaches, we can help victims to process these experiences and understand their own responses to traumatic events.
Without support to understand and recover from their experiences, the impacts of domestic abuse can be long term and destructive for victims. Studies focusing on male victims have identified long-lasting consequences of domestic abuse, including poor mental health , a higher prevalence of binge drinking , and post-traumatic stress disorder . Clearly, male victims need access to support both during and after their abusive relationship, so they can get the support they need to process their experiences and – ultimately – heal from them.
On the Men’s Advice Line, our expert advisors are trained to support male victims of domestic abuse: confidentially and without judgement. We offer advice and emotional support to men experiencing abuse in heterosexual or same-sex relationships and we signpost to other vital services to help keep them and their children safe.
 (Morgan and Wells, 2016)
 (Bates, 2019b)
 (Hines & Straus, 2007)
 (PTSD; Hines & Douglas, 2011),