Recent study confirms need for increasing the capacity of DV programs to meet the mental health needs of survivors

A recently released report, Meeting Survivors’ Needs Through Non-Residential Domestic Violence Services & Supports: Results of a Multi-State Study, by Eleanor Lyon, PhD, Jill Bradshaw, PhD, and Anne Menard, examines the services being provided at 90 DV programs most of which are located in 4 geographically diverse states, but which also include programs specifically identified by “culturally specific organizations with a national presence” (the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, the Asian Pacific Islander Institute on Domestic Violence, Casa de Esperanza, and the Women of Color Network). Programs they recruited came from 11 additional states. The report documents the services being provided by DV programs as well as the self-reported needs and experiences of survivors who received services at these programs.

The report demonstrates that DV programs are now meeting a broader range of survivors’ needs than ever before (whether directly or in collaboration with other community agencies), including needs related to physical and mental health, economic security, legal and immigration issues, and transportation. The ability of DV programs to increasingly meet the complex needs of survivors and their children despite ongoing economic crises and budget cuts that often require them to “do more with less” speaks to the commitment of the DV field to serving survivors and effecting social change.

The report also provides guidance on areas where the DV field needs continued resources and support to meet the needs of survivors. In response to questions about the types of things that they wanted help with, over 1/3 of survivors (40%) specifically stated that they wanted “help with mental health services,” and the majority of survivors (88.5%) responded that they wanted “information about counseling options.” When asked if they considered themselves to have a disability or disabling condition, 21% of survivors responded “yes,” and described a number of physical and mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

In response to questions about serving survivors with disabilities or other needs, 67% of DV programs reported that their physical building was fully accessible. Of those surveyed, 45% reported that they provided services specifically for survivors with physical disabilities, while approximately 20% reported that they provided services for survivors with mental health disabilities (examples included one-on-one advocacy, collaborative agreements and partnerships with local mental health and/or counseling agencies, on-site counseling services). Approximately 12% reported that they provided services for survivors with cognitive disabilities. These data indicate that DV programs have made significant efforts to serve survivors who are experiencing disability, but also reflect a need for additional capacity building in this area.

Despite the high stigma associated with substance abuse and the resulting disincentive to report needing help, a significant number of survivors in the study self-reported wanting help with substance abuse services (18.6%). Studies have indicated that overall use of substances among survivors of domestic violence is much higher (for a summary of some of the research, see Getting Safe and Sober: Real Tools You Can Use). Approximately 18% of the DV programs in the study reported that they provided substance abuse counseling, while almost 80% reported that they made referrals for substance abuse counseling.

Recommended resources:

For more information on the relationship between domestic violence and mental health, see Intimate Partner Violence and Lifetime Trauma.

For tips on working with survivors experiencing mental health conditions, see these publications by the Center: Practical Tips for Increasing Access to Services, Tips for Making Connections with Survivors Experiencing Psychiatric Disabilities, Tips for Discussing a Mental Health Referral with DV Survivors, and Locating Mental Health and Substance Abuse Supports for Survivors.

For tips on working with survivors coping with substance abuse, see Getting Safe and Sober: Real Tools You Can Use, by the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (Patti Bland, one of the principal authors of this publication, recently joined the staff of the National Center).

For tips on working with survivors with physical disabilities, see Safety Planning for Domestic Violence Survivors with Disabilities by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Link to the study:



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