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Mental Health, Trauma and Disabilities

The trauma resulting from intimate partner abuse cannot be underestimated. Research over the past 30 years has documented the prevalence of domestic violence and lifetime trauma among women seen in health and mental health settings, as well as the range of mental health conditions associated with current and past abuse.

In addition, the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health has found that there is a great risk of retraumatization when clients experiencing domestic violence are served by providers and others who do not have a trauma-focused approach in their work.

We know from our own work that providers and advocates will better serve victims in Delaware if they both understand the principles of a trauma-focused approach, and know how to apply those principles collaboratively to domestic violence situations in Delaware.

Did you know?

  • Women with disabilities experience the highest rates of abuse and violence of any group in our society – from spouses, partners, boyfriends, family members, caregivers, and strangers.
  • Women with disabilities report more types of abuse over a longer period.
  • Men with disabilities are twice as likely to be sexually abused as their non-disabled counterparts.

Mental Health, Trauma, and Disabilities

Individuals with disabilities and mental illness have unique risks of being victimized by intimate partners and others as well as unique barriers to accessing services. DCADV has been working collaboratively with national and local experts and local service providers to improve the services and resources available to victims of domestic violence with disabilities and/or mental illness, using a trauma-informed approach.

Mental Health and Trauma Project
Domestic Violence, Disabilities and Mental Illness Project

Mental Health and Trauma Project

Domestic violence advocacy has long been focused on empowering victims of domestic violence to use available resources and services to improve their level of safety and perhaps, ultimately, to escape from the abuse they experience. Yet, too often, victims who have experienced abuse are too traumatized, at least when initially seeking services, to utilize these same resources and services effectively.

There are now various efforts across the country to help advocates and domestic violence programs better serve victims by gaining an understanding of both the short and long term effects of trauma and how the experience of trauma may affect individuals. Since 2004, DCADV has been interested in and worked on fostering an understanding of trauma-informed advocacy among our domestic violence program providers. Since 2008, DCADV has been working with and learning from Carol Warshaw, MD of the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health, a leading expert on trauma-informed advocacy and the importance of addressing the mental health needs of victims who have experienced trauma as a result of abuse at the hands of an intimate partner.

DCADV was subsequently invited to become part of a three-year project with the National Center on Domestic Violence, Mental Health and Trauma involving eight sites from around the country that are working on trauma-informed advocacy, to strengthen our own capacity in trauma-informed advocacy, to enhance the ability of local domestic violence programs to serve victims experiencing the traumatic effects of abuse, and to assist mental health providers in better understanding how to assist victims of domestic and sexual violence.

In 2009, DCADV received funding from Verizon Foundation to expand this work by engaging a work group made up of experts from the Domestic Violence, Mental Health, and Trauma communities in Delaware to create a strategic plan based on a needs assessment, and hiring a part time Mental Health and Trauma Associate to implement the plan. This project also enabled DCADV to identify issues and unmet training needs of providers and advocates in Delaware, and to provide guidance and direction about the trauma-focused approach. DCADV has provided several large and small group trainings for mental health providers and domestic violence service providers and advocates.

Additional funding was garnered from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware and Verizon Wireless to continue this project into 2011.

The Verizon Foundation continues to support this work. In 2012 they funded a project to build a new statewide alliance made up of advocates, survivors, and behavioral health and substance abuse treatment providers who understand how domestic violence and mental health and substance abuse problems are often intertwined.  

In 2013 the Delaware Criminal Justice Council and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Delaware supported the planning of a two-day conference, "Addressing Family Violence Through Trauma-Informed Partnerships," which brought together domestic violence advocates and providers from the broader service community in Delaware to learn more about using a trauma-informed approach when working with victims and survivors of domestic violence, family violence, or dating violence.

DCADV has hosted national experts to train Delaware domestic violence service providers and advocates, including Sandy Boom, founder of the Sanctuary Model and Drs. Terry Pease and Carol Warshaw of the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health.

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Domestic Violence, Disabilities, and Mental Illness

In 2010, DCADV received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women to improve the response to victims of intimate partner violence who have a disability and/or mental illness, by enhancing services and resources in Delaware. With the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Delaware and the Center for Disabilities Studies at the University of Delaware, DCADV embarked on a four-year First State Equal Access to Safety Collaboration to examine the current state of services to individuals with disabilities and/or mental illness who encounter intimate partner violence. The Collaboration’s Needs Assessment Report and Strategic Plan have been approved by the Office of Violence Against Women.  


The Collaboration is in the process of implementing the strategic plan focused on building its capacity to provide consultation and technical assistance to domestic violence, disabilities, and mental health service providers. Through this technical assistance and consultation, the Collaboration can realize its vision to create a system in Delaware in which intimate partner violence is recognized in the lives of individuals with a disability and/or mental illness and is responded to appropriately, in a trauma-informed manner, by service providers.

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