Parvathi (not her real name) fainted at work and was taken to the Hospital Emergency. She was suffering severe palpitations, pain in chest, inability to breathe and she thought she was dying. She was diagnosed as suffering Panic Attacks. She had more admissions to the Hospital with Panic Attacks. She was referred to consult me.

She displayed high level of fear, she was extremely fearful of her husband. He was controlling her income and her social life. She was not allowed to talk to her family or friends. He was abusive. On one occasion he pushed her towards the stove when she was cooking and she burnt her arms. She knew he was trying to burn her. She started to recognise her life was at risk and called the Police. They removed her from home and got her safe shelter through Safe Steps.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone – women and men both can be victims of violence. 16 % men can be victims and 1 in 3 women are or have been victims of domestic violence in Australia Victorian Police data shows that in 2016 women were victims in more than 90% cases.

Domestic violence causes mental illness and lot of physical illness /problems. 56% of women who experience domestic violence are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. For example survivors of domestic violence are much more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than people involved in serious car accidents.

What is post-traumatic stress disorder? People get bad memories that intrude into their present moment thinking, they are called flashbacks. They consist of recurring, distressing re-living of past trauma in memories, night mares reliving the abuse, as if it was happening all over again. They may suffer loss of interest or involvement in life; feeling flat, empty, pessimistic about a future. Victims of domestic violence find it hard to fall asleep or have difficulty staying asleep. They feel anxious, fearful. They may feel irritable or angry. They may have difficulty concentrating. The victims can get panic attacks with palpitations and difficulty breathing .Victims can feel overly watchful and startle easily or become jumpy.

Women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence are around four times more likely to think about suicide compared with the general female population. Rates of depression for survivors of domestic violence are around four times as high as the rates for non-abused women.

What is depressive illness? If you are feeling sad, tearful, feeling like life is not worth living, you feel loss of self-confidence and feel helpless to change anything- if the above symptoms last for more than 4 weeks you may be depressed. Some people feel shame, and guilt and start blaming themselves for the domestic violence. They start to feel very tired and unable to sleep. They may suffer loss of appetite and loss of weight. They can all be symptoms of depression. You need help. Please go and see your local GP and tell them your symptoms.

What happens inside our brain when we face threat to our life on a daily basis as in the case of domestic violence? When we face very real dangers to our physical survival, we can go into the freeze response or we can start angry attack on our enemy or a flight meaning run away from the situation. But what if you are trapped and can’t run away, this is when chronic stress starts to build up. Our brain starts to produces stress chemicals, such as adrenaline and corticosteroids. These chemicals cause damage to the brain and body, lead to tension headaches, bowel problems like Irritable bowel syndrome, low immunity to common colds and infections, high blood pressure, heart racing or palpitations.

Coping mechanisms

How do you cope with stress, anxiety, feeling low, after being a victim of violence or argument with your manager? Many people take to drinking alcohol or using drugs. Some people resort to violence against their partners or children. That is unhealthy coping mechanisms and damaging to the whole family. Some use alcohol, and that is a depressant and you will feel more depressed.

Get right help. Go and see your GP. You may need therapy, counselling or medication, please seek advice before it gets too late . If in danger ring Police 000.

Establishing control over any aspect of your own life, not over other people. Start with daily exercise, eating good food, going to work or study, manage your own money, making telephone calls to your supportive family and friends, deciding to make an appointment to see your doctor. Being active, meeting other people and usefully occupying your time can create a sense of purpose and build self-esteem.