Thursday 2 February is Time to Talk Day, when the Time to Change campaign calls on us all to talk about mental health and "keep the conversation going round the clock". The idea is that by talking about our mental health we give other people the opportunity to open up about their own, where previously they may not have felt able to.
Time to Change is a great campaign and over recent years has generated a measurable shift in people's attitudes to mental health problems, with almost 100,000 pledging to do their bit to end mental health stigma.
But here at Woman's Trust we know that for some victims of domestic abuse speaking out, and being open about mental health issues, can be a huge challenge. Many of the women who turn to us for help have endured years of abuse, whether psychological, coercive, financial, sexual, or physical. The effect on their mental health can be devastating, their confidence shattered and emotional resilience crippled. Women who are victims of domestic abuse are twice as likely to experience depression and three quarters of abused women suffer from either depression or anxiety disorders.
While it's vital these women feel able to seek help for their mental health, simply encouraging them to be open about their issues, without the right support structures in place, can be problematic. This is where services like ours have a key role to play, offering free, person centred therapeutic support to women who have been victims of domestic abuse. All of our counsellors are women and we deliver specialist support which specifically addresses the needs of our clients.
The impact of this support is life-changing for the women who seek our help: over two thirds said that after our help they felt less suicidal and were less likely to self-harm. Nine out of ten said they had a better knowledge of their rights, empowering them to make the best life choices for themselves, and the same number said they felt more in control of their future.
One of the other reasons we are able to make such a big difference is because we work with women to ensure the service is built up around their needs, and developed accordingly. For instance two years ago we learned through client feedback that many women who had managed to leave an abusive relationship and who had taken the difficult step of seeking help, said they faced an unbearable wait- often months- to receive the mental health services they needed to help them deal with their trauma, and move on with their lives. During this wait women said they sometimes struggled to cope.
In response Woman's Trust developed crisis counselling, comprising up to three sessions of immediate counselling, which help to prevent women's mental health deteriorating while they wait for a longer course of counselling. We applied to the Big Lottery for funding to start this service, and it is currently up and running in East London, with data showing that it is working. We are therefore trying to expand it across London.
Time to Change- and the many other charities working in the field of mental health - have done a huge amount to normalise talking about mental health. Yet, there can be no one-size fits all solution for people with mental health issues and in the midst of this welcome progress we must ensure that the varying needs of different groups- including victims of domestic abuse- are not lost.