Emily Vera, LCSW – Executive DirectorMental Health Association of Delaware
There is a documented link between suicide risk and domestic violence – two major public health crises that must be addressed in a coordinated fashion. Persons who suffer interpersonal violence usually report a range of negative mental and physical health outcomes, and survivors of intimate partner violence are twice as likely as the general public to attempt suicide multiple times.
Studies show that survivors of domestic violence have higher-than-average rates of suicidal thoughts, with as many as 23 percent of survivors having attempted suicide compared to 3 percent among those who have not experienced domestic violence.
This includes not only exposure to repeated physical or sexual abuse, but also exposure to psychological or emotional abuse. Such abuse may cause victims to experience depression, hopelessness and other forms of psychological distress, sometimes to the point of considering or attempting suicide.
Reasons for this correlation are complex and variable, but almost certainly include the severe and sustained stress that goes hand in hand with experiencing abuse, often encompassing humiliation, being controlled, isolation, and lack of access to money or other basic resources.
Protective factors that keep people from considering suicide include a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose, and these can often be disrupted in an abusive relationship where the victim is isolated from friends, family, and other social networks. Individuals may perceive that they are dependent on their abuser and as such, may perceive themselves as burdensome and purposeless. The act of suicide may also be seen as a means of taking back control in a situation when
one feels extremely helpless and powerless.
If an individual at risk for suicide because of interpersonal violence does not receive help, the risk of suicide may not abate even after the abuse ends. But there are things we can do increase safety from suicide among those who have experienced and are experiencing abuse.
One solution is to further connect the fields of mental health and domestic violence, who have historically worked in isolation, but are increasingly becoming more coordinated. When each field isn't educated about the other, grave outcomes can occur. For example, domestic violence workers may minimize suicide threats made by perpetrators of violence as simply attempts to manipulate partners.
Such threats, however, indicate a genuine risk of harm to both
perpetrators and their victims. Or, when someone makes a suicide attempt, their mental health worker may not ask about violence, and the person at risk may be too ashamed to bring it up, so no intervention is provided to mitigate the situation.
Learn more:The Link Between Suicide Risk and DV