SafeLives calls on the Government to improve mental health support for domestic abuse survivors

13th May 2019

Today during Mental Health Awareness Week, SafeLives publishes Safe and Well. The research – which comes as parliament considers a draft Domestic Abuse Bill - has found health services are failing the many victims and survivors of domestic abuse with mental health needs, missing opportunities to ensure people are safe, sooner. It calls on the Department of Health and Social care, and its equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to show leadership in tackling the problem.

Mental health problems are a common consequence of experiencing domestic abuse, both for adults and children – SafeLives data shows that at the time of accessing domestic abuse support, 42% of survivors have mental health problems and 17% have planned or attempted suicide. Having mental health issues can render a person more vulnerable to abuse. Despite these links, domestic abuse is going undetected in mental health services.

Suzanne Jacob OBE, Chief Executive of SafeLives, said: ‘These findings paint a grim picture of the support available for victims and survivors experiencing mental health problems. Our report, together with the government’s own data, suggests the NHS could save billions – as well as saving lives – by taking a more pro-active approach to the public health co-epidemics of domestic abuse and mental health.’

Government research published this February put the mental health cost for victims of domestic abuse to the health service at £1.3 billion in 2016/17 alone[i]. It also shows that the NHS spent £2.3bn that year in responding to harm caused by domestic abuse.

Our research shows patients will have repeatedly visited health services such as GPs and A&E before any domestic abuse support is offered, prolonging harm and driving repeat costs. The report further shows, that when either mental health or domestic abuse needs are identified, one type of service rarely links up with the other.

The mental health impact of domestic abuse can be severe and long lasting. One survivor told us:

‘I really was good at holding it together externally but inside I really felt I was going insane – I couldn’t control my thoughts, I couldn’t sleep and was in constant pain or feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I got to a point where I didn’t think I could carry on.’

Other key findings of the research are:

We are missing opportunities to help some of the most vulnerable victims and survivors

Victims and survivors with mental health needs are experiencing some of the highest levels of risk and multiple disadvantage[1]. Under-resourced mental health services mean long waiting times. Victims and survivors with mental health problems also face barriers accessing many other vital services. Such barriers are too often leading to people being bounced around different services, having to constantly re-tell their story.

We must respond to the mental health needs of those perpetrating abuse

Most people with mental health needs will never be violent, and mental ill health is never an excuse for perpetrating abuse. However, building an understanding of the mental health needs of perpetrators can help services develop more effective interventions. Interventions aimed at targeting violent behaviour are less likely to be effective if mental health needs are ignored.

The system is failing children who are living with domestic abuse 

SafeLives’ data shows that despite 21% of children accessing domestic abuse support having depression and/or anxiety, only 12% of total cases had involvement from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). It is vital that children and young people have access to timely and appropriate mental health support, to mitigate both the immediate and long-term psychological impact of experiencing domestic abuse. 

Dr Beena Rajkumar of The Royal College of Psychiatrists said,

‘Despite the fact mental health issues are more common in cases of domestic abuse, both victims and perpetrators continue to be missed by mental health services. That means we are missing a huge opportunity to better detect, treat and save the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

‘This report has an important part to play in better preparing mental health professionals to truly get to the heart of the lives of the patients they see, and I speak as a frontline psychiatrist when I say that is our number one priority.’


Contact: Ruth Davies, Senior Communications Officer, ruth.davies@safelives.org.uk, 0117 403 3233


Notes to editors


SafeLives is a UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for good. We combine insight from services, survivors and statistics to support people to become safe, well and rebuild their lives.  

No one should live in fear. It is not acceptable, not inevitable, and together – we can make it stop. 

Domestic Abuse   

Every year in the UK, more than two million adults suffer some form of domestic abuse. Crucially, 85% of victims of domestic abuse seek help five times on average before they get effective support, and four out of five victims of domestic abuse do not call the police.  

About the Spotlights series 

Spotlights shines a light on 'hidden' victims and survivors of domestic abuse, who face additional barriers when accessing support. We bring together our own research alongside the work of other expert organisations, practice expertise and most importantly the voices of survivors. This report brings together the findings of our 7th Spotlight, focusing on victims and survivors of domestic abuse experiencing mental health difficulties. Previous Spotlights have looked at older people, disabled survivors, young people, 'honour'-based violence and forced marriage, homelessness and LGBT+ victims and survivors.  

We are grateful to AVA (Against Violence and Abuse) and the Royal College of Psychiatrists for their input on this report



[1] Victims with mental health needs were more likely to experience each type of abuse, particularly sexual abuse (25% vs 19%). Victims with mental health needs were also more likely to have problems with drug and alcohol use (drugs: 10% vs 2%, alcohol: 14% vs 4%)


[i]  Those who suffered emotional or financial abuse only, i.e. there was no physical abuse, were not included which removed the costs for one third of victims identified by the 2016/17 Crime Survey for England and Wales. This indicates that the true cost is likely to be higher