This week is Men’s Health Week, a time for organisations to come together and raise awareness of preventable health issues in men and boys. Our focus is domestic abuse, which can affect anyone and has implications for victims’ physical and mental health.
We spoke to the team at the Men’s Advice Line, the helpline for male victims run by Respect, to learn more about the impact of domestic abuse on male victims’ mental health, as well as the barriers they face in disclosing abuse, and the support available to them.
On the Men’s Advice Line, helpline advisors support male victims by offering both emotional and practical help. They ensure male victims understand their rights and options and can support victims to access on-going support from local domestic abuse services, offering safety planning advice and helping victims to find safety.
The helpline team have had a particularly busy couple of years, with contacts to the helpline increasing dramatically at the start of the pandemic, and never returning to pre-pandemic levels. Helpline advisors have seen an increase in the frequency, complexity and severity of the abuse experienced by male victims, as well as an increase in men discussing suicidal ideation, extreme anxiety, stress and hopelessness.
Caleb* told an advisor that he could not see any other way out: ‘I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to live.’ Another caller, Iman*, had tried to kill himself ‘hundreds of times’, telling the advisor: ‘In the next few days maybe I kill myself … I want to find a very quick solution’.
As well as the mental toll domestic abuse takes on a victim’s mental and physical health, the fear of speaking out creates an additional burden.
As for many victims of domestic abuse, one of the major barriers that prevent male victims accessing support is the fear that they won’t be believed or taken seriously by services including the police.
Unfortunately, this fear can be a legitimate one. Whilst some male victims experience a positive response from the police, the helpline team frequently speaks to men whose disclosures were dismissed by services or loved ones.
Many men are also deeply ashamed of the abuse they’re experiencing. Callers often mention how difficult they find it to be a man talking about domestic abuse: ‘I feel like I’m a man…I feel like I shouldn’t be in this position’. Some are told that men can’t be victims of abuse. Grant* said: “She’s done stuff with shoving and grabbing before. I said: ‘look this is abuse’ and she just laughed at me.”
For male victims from Black and minoritised communities, these obstacles are compounded by language barriers, distrust of the police, fears around immigration status, and a lack of culturally competent services for male victims.
During the pandemic and in the aftermath, helpline advisors have been there to support callers through all this. Tanisha Jnagel, the Helplines Manager at Respect said: “The legacy of the pandemic is still being felt on the helpline, and will be for some time. Callers are still experiencing increased levels of poor mental health and isolation, and we’re now taking increasing numbers of calls where the cost of living is also a factor in victims’ experiences of abuse”
To provide additional support, the Men’s Advice Line has recently launched its new Information Hub, created to help male victims access local domestic abuse services, refuges and links to specialist support and information.
But more still needs to be done.
Ippo Panteloudakis, Head of Services at Respect, said: “There is still a worrying lack of specialist services available for male victims of abuse. The Men’s Advice Line is there on the front line, the first port of call, but there needs to be services to support men in the community. There can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting domestic abuse survivors, so it’s vital that safe, tailored responses are piloted and funded”
We are working with Respect and other organisations to ensure there are enough specialist support services across England and Wales.
Respect is a pioneering UK membership organisation in the domestic abuse sector. The charity leads on the development of safe, effective work with perpetrators, male victims, and young people using violence in their close relationships.
Learn more about Respect here https://www.respect.uk.net/