I am so glad that Prince Harry has spoken about his mental health issues. It has shone a spotlight on mental health – and the need to talk about it and the fact that it is okay to talk about it – in a way that few others could achieve.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Why do I want to talk about mental health and domestic violence? Because the impact on the mental health of people who are enduring or have endured domestic abuse is all too often overlooked and belittled. Yet time and again, survivors of the most horrendous physical domestic abuse say that the hardest thing they have to live with are the mental scars.
Do we not talk about mental health in the context of domestic violence because mental scars and traumas are harder to see than a bruised or broken limb, a black eye, a thick lip, a cigarette burn? That will be part of it. But I think it’s also because mental health is difficult and awkward to talk about full stop.
And let’s not forget the scale of the problem. One in four women and one in six men endure domestic violence at some stage in their adult lives. Those statistics are based on cases reported to the police. In almost all cases of domestic abuse involving physical violence, there was associated mental abuse. And how many more cases of domestic abuse – often building and building over years, yet never involving a physical attack – are simply never reported to the police because there’s a sense that perhaps a crime hasn’t been committed?
Well it has.
In 2015 a new offence of coercive or controlling behaviour was introduced and it was brought in precisely in recognition of the impact that mental and emotional abuse can have. It is defined as ‘a purposeful pattern of incidents that occur over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another’. It carries a maximum term of 5 years’ imprisonment or a fine or both.
Yes, it is hard facing up to and talking about mental health issues – Prince Harry will attest to that. Imagine how hard then it must be to come forwards and talk about damage to your emotional and mental health at the hands of a spouse, partner or family member. And who can you talk to about it? Perhaps, actually, an understanding employer. The Corporate Alliance helps employers to help employees who are enduring domestic violence – emotional, sexual, physical or mental. I am proud to be an Ambassador for the Alliance because I know they can help save lives.
So it’s good to talk about mental health – in Mental Health Awareness Week and every week.
Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Corporate Responsibility
Gowling WLG (UK) LLP (the new name for Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co)