Violence against women: How to cope with discourse overwhelm

The issue of violence against women is firmly in the spotlight — and it can be confronting. Experts share how you can protect your mental wellbeing.

Public outcry against violence against women has intensified following a string of recent incidents.

From media coverage to mass rallies around Australia and pre-game tributes at AFL matches, discussion around gender-based violence has been vigorous and widespread.

And while there is no doubt that scrutiny of this issue is vital, experts say such saturation coverage may be taking a mental toll on some women.

Here are their tips for protecting your mental wellbeing while discourse around gender-based violence is at its peak.

The mental toll of gender-based violence discourse

Monash University Associate Professor of criminology Asher Flynn says some women may find it confronting to be regularly seeing and hearing so much in the news about violence.

“Constantly (reading and) hearing about violence can cause distress, particularly for those who have previously experienced abuse of some kind,” Assoc Prof Flynn says.

Assoc Prof Flynn, who is also a chief investigator on the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, says they may experience feelings of shame, guilt and trauma.

“This can impact an individual’s capacity to participate in everyday activities, such as going to work and meeting family commitments, but it can also result in people shutting off from loved ones, from social media, from doing things they enjoy,” she says.

Monash University Associate Professor Becky Batagol, whose research centres around gender and social change, says women can also feel uneasy when constantly exposed to others’ hardships.

Assoc Prof Batagol says this “vicarious trauma” can lead to difficulty managing emotions, as well as feelings of fatigue, vulnerability and excessive worrying.

Violence against women: How to cope with discourse overwhelm

Acknowledge your fears

Psychiatrist and HER Centre Australia director Professor Jayashri Kulkarni says it is essential to work through one’s thoughts and feelings about violence against women.

“Discuss what you feel with people in your close circle,” Prof Kulkarni says.

“Verbalising your emotions is important to diminish fear.

“Actually being able to hear yourself say, ‘I’m scared to go to the end of the street’ is useful because it makes you think of the ‘why’, and helps break down overwhelming fear into real risks and dangers.”

Reach out for support

Australian Psychological Society chief executive Dr Zena Burgess says turning to others for support is a good starting point.

“Joining a community support group can empower people to come to terms with their experience in a safe and understanding way,” Dr Burgess says.

“Monitoring and limiting your media and social media is also an effective way to reduce stress and overexposure to traumatic news.”

Reframe your perspective

Assoc Prof Flynn says shifting perspective and seeing the increased media discussion as productive can also help ease your mind.

“It is important to look at the broader picture, which is that increased conversation on these issues is also drawing more attention to the problem,” she says.

“It means we can focus discussions on prevention, education and responding to violence in ways that prioritise this issue and send a clear message that violence is not OK.”

Take action

Assoc Prof Batagol says advocating for change in your own community can also be an effective coping strategy.

She says media coverage of violence survivors who have overcome adversity can even be empowering for women as it can help to develop “vicarious resilience”.

“If we can reframe how we see experiences or violence, it is possible for these stories to have a positive effect on our lives,” Assoc Prof Batagol says.

If you or someone you know needs support, contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.

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Written by Ravisha Rajapaksha.