There are limited crisis accommodation options for women with severe and persistent mental health issues in Sydney and as far as I know, there are none that are specifically designed to support women with mental health issues who are experiencing domestic violence. The trauma of domestic violence can either exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness or indeed be causal to the experience of mental health issues. We struggle to find accommodation for women escaping domestic violence if they are assessed as having “high” or “complex needs”.
Women are often limited in their opportunities to seek mental health support whilst living in an environment of domestic violence. Their phones and movements may be monitored. They may have limited access to transport. Financial abuse may restrict their access to funds. A perpetrator of domestic violence may deny them access to medication.
It is unfortunately common for perpetrators of domestic violence to use a partner’s experience of mental health issues against her. Domestic Violence NSW forwarded an email from a woman in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. Representatives from Family and Community Services, police and paramedics arrived to remove her son from her care and escort her to hospital on the day prior. Her ex-husband had made a report to the police that she was suicidal and he had concerns for his son. Whilst she experiences depression, she wrote in her email that she had always taken very good care of her son and had no thoughts of suicide. There had been some dispute over access to her son on the weekend prior.
I called her at the hospital and established that she was in fact a former client of Lou’s Place. I was aware that she was a survivor of domestic violence and experienced depression. I contacted the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS) in her area and they confirmed that there had been several AVOs taken out against her ex-partner with the current AVO expired. I spoke with the staff on the ward and contacted the social worker at the hospital to raise her experience of domestic violence and share my concerns about the fact that she had been scheduled as an involuntary patient. I gave the social worker the number for the WDVCAS to corroborate her evidence of domestic violence and the social worker agreed to contact a friend listed on her file. Within hours, the woman was discharged and she is now seeking to regain custody of her child with the support of mediation.
The Family Court is another environment where women with an experience of domestic violence and mental health issues are often at a disadvantage. This can be due to the way they present when they are giving evidence. They are traumatised and can be very anxious, or perceived as being "unstable."