It's not just the blow: 5 facts about how violence against women profoundly affects their mental health

(CNN Spanish) –– One in three women in the world has suffered physical or sexual violence during her life. And before you continue reading, stop to think about something: if you put together three of your friends, with their own names and stories, at least one of them will have been a victim of violence. Now, if you are a woman, the picture is even bleaker: if you have not suffered violence, it means that one of every two friends who joins you will have been a victim. “This is a stark reminder of gender inequality and discrimination against women,” the World Health Organization notes on the statistic, which does not include sexual harassment.

The consequences of violence against women extend beyond the episode (or multiple episodes) itself. Its effects are also not limited, without minimizing the severity, to skin marks, injuries or fractures. The violence to which women have been victims systematically affects their mental health. If they survive.

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On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women we leave you five facts about how violence hits women’s mental health.

Depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety and much, much more

The different forms of violence against women can lead, among others, to depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety disorders, sleeping difficulties, eating disorders and even suicide attempts, according to the WHO. And although it seems like a list of medical terms, in reality it is about diseases or disorders that profoundly affect the life of any person. “Women who have experienced violence from their partner were twice as likely to experience depression,” highlights an analysis by the organization. This coincides with a key fact from UN Women: “The rates of depression, having an abortion and acquiring HIV are higher among women who have experienced violence, compared to women who have not.”

What is added to the fact that even before being victims of violence, women are more likely than men to suffer from depression and anxiety. Depressive disorders account for about 41.9% of disability due to neuropsychiatric disorders among women, compared to 29.3% among men, says the WHO. Something similar occurs with post-traumatic stress due to the prevalence of sexual violence to which women are exposed: they are the group most affected by this disorder.

And, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, this got worse. This was mentioned by Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, in a discussion. “The social inequalities that women experience and the greater exposure to violence increase their risk of mental health problems. The latter has intensified with the covid-19 crisis, causing women to be even more likely to develop new mental health problems. mental health”.

suicide attempts

Traumatic stress is believed to be the main mechanism explaining why intimate partner violence against women may lead to subsequent suicide attempts. “Exposure to traumatic events can lead to stress, fear and isolation, which, in turn, can lead to depression and suicidal behavior,” reads a WHO report. Additionally, the organization indicated that suicide attempts, “which exceed completed suicides by 20 times”, are more frequent in women.

Alcohol abuse is intertwined with violence

Women who are victims of intimate partner violence are twice as likely to have alcohol use disorders. However, warns the WHO, the abuse of this substance and violence are intertwined. Citing studies, the entity explains that there is a positive association between the experience of violence and subsequent alcohol consumption: “There is clear evidence that women with a history of violence consume more alcohol and, conversely, that women who consume alcohol in harmful ways are more likely to report experiences of violence.

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Violence against women leaves consequences from an early age on mental health

Exposure to violence and other trauma during development and early life may play a prominent role “in predicting violence and depression.” In other words, women are exposed to violence throughout their lives. In fact, gender violence is present in spaces that should be safe, such as schools. Although girls and boys are equally likely to be bullied at school, girls are more prone to bullying and say they are teased about the way their face or body looks more often than boys, says UN Women.

Few women ask for help and there are barriers to mental health

It is not easy for any victim of violence to ask for help. This translates to a percentage identified by UN Women. Less than 40% of women who experience violence seek help of any kind. And those that do turn primarily to family and friends. Very few to formal institutions. In fact, less than 10% went to the police. To this is added the barrier of access to specialized services to face the consequences of violence. According to UN Women, comprehensive professional treatment is very often “not available or accessible to the vast majority of survivors.”

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