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The link between GBV and mental health

This is according to Clinical Psychologist Robyn Travers, who works at the Department of Health’s Tara The H Moross Hospital in Johannesburg.

Travers confirmed that GBV can lead to women experiencing various psycho-social, economic and societal stressors.

“The psychological impact of GBV can contribute towards adult victims experiencing depression, anxiety-related disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance-use disorders. Additionally, feelings of shame, anger, hopelessness and helplessness and suicidal urges may be prominent,” she said.

Each women’s psychology is different and they may experience different symptoms and mental health conditions.

“It is very difficult to predict which women are more likely to experience which mental health conditions, as this depends on a range of factors such as genetic vulnerabilities, familial and community-based support structures, emotional intelligence and resilience etc.

“It is also important to keep in mind that trauma is experienced differently by individuals and that the process of working through the trauma is specific to the individual,” said Travers.

Not all women who experience GBV are likely to develop substance-use disorders.

According to Travers, some women may turn to substance-use as a means of coping with the trauma they have experienced. “Others, who may already be reliant on substance-use, may increase the frequency and intensity of substance use.”

Help is at hand

Travers said women who have been victims of GBV should seek out therapeutic services, such as individual or group therapy, as this offers an important platform for victims to attempt to make sense of their experiences and symptoms.

Victims can access mental health services at any of the community-based clinics where individual and group-based interventions are offered. “At times, assistance may also take the form of psychiatric medication to assist in alleviating the initial symptoms. This could potentially be followed by a combination of medication and psychological intervention,” said Travers.

“It is important that families adopt a non-judgemental and compassionate stance towards their loved ones or friends during their healing process,” she added. Travers explained that emotional and practical support is of the utmost importance during this period. “This can include listening to the victim's story, feelings and experiences; creating a safe physical environment; and accompanying the victim to the hospital, police station and legal aid clinic.”

Victims can contact various organisations for help. These include People Opposing Women Abuse’s at (011) 642-4545.

The Department of Social Development’s emergency Gender-Based Violence Command Centre can be contacted at 0800 428 428, or by sending a ‘please call me’ to *120*7867#. In addition, a Skype helpline is available for people with hearing impairments - add 'HELPME GBV' to your Skype contacts. People with disabilities can also SMS helpline - SMS 'HELP' to 31531.

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