Teen relationships aren’t just about “puppy love.” Dating during adolescence can leave a lasting impact on one’s life, especially if a dating relationship is darkened by violence and abuse.
In the first article of a series on February’s Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, I provided information about the awareness month and defined what teen dating violence is.
Click here to read National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month: Part 1.
This second article will discuss the role mental health has to play in the relationship between perpetrator and victim, and mental health consequences of dating violence.
Elizabeth Waterman, a licensed clinical psychologist, said in an email that victims of dating violence are potentially at risk for many mental health issues.
“Victims are more likely to become depressed, perform worse in school, develop eating disorders, and are at higher risk for violent relationships in college compared to those who are never in violent teen relationships,” Waterman said.
“In addition, those in abusive relationships can develop low self-esteem and dependency issues that will continue if not altered with corrective, healthy relationships.”
Sheela Raja, a clinical psychologist, added in an email that in a short time period, girls can develop very low self-esteem.
“In the [long-term, dating violence] can lead to anxiety, depression, substance use, and other negative ways of coping with these feelings,” Raja said.
“For example, girls with a history of violence are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol and use food to cope. So mental and physical health are connected.”
Joy Tanimura Winquist, a social worker, said in an email that warning signs of someone being abused in a teen dating relationship include mental health issues like depression and anxiety, which also happen to be effects of dating violence.
“Dating violence can be very detrimental on the mental health of a teen victim,” Tanimura Winquist said.
“They are constantly being put down and abused by their partner, contributing to a sense of insecurity, hopelessness and lack of self-worth. The unpredictability of their partner’s moods and behaviors often makes them anxious and nervous. This can affect school performance, friendships, activity level, and self-care.”
Christine Gutierrez, a psychotherapist, said in an email that some dating violence victims can develop post-traumatic stress disorder as well.
Audrey Cleary, a licensed psychologist, added in an email that being involved in a dating violence situation “can lead to a constant state of tension or fear on the part of the one being abused.”
This unhealthy state can eventually build up to psychiatric issues like depression.
It can be a confusing situation for teens when the dating partner abuses them but also expresses their love in other situations, she said.
Kristin Carmichael, a licensed independent social worker, said in an email that teen girls can be especially vulnerable to mental health effects from dating violence, and what makes it worse is that they’re still in the process of developing.
“Their lack of experience in relationships and still emerging sense of self makes them particularly vulnerable to being manipulated, abused and convinced that certain negative things are true of them (they are stupid, bad, worthless, promiscuous) even if they are not,” Carmichael said.
“Oftentimes older boys or men use a teen girl’s inexperience, or unsureness about herself, or even her history of family abuse to their advantage in gaining power and control over her.”
Pre-existing mental health conditions or behaviors and family history can sometimes predict if someone is more likely to be involved in a dating situation involving violence as well.
“When people have come from families where they have witnessed domestic violence (or experienced child abuse themselves), they are much more likely to experience domestic violence in their own relationships,” Raja said.
“So, the intergenerational cycle of violence is a key problem and predictor here.”
Gutierrez agrees that it is more common for teens to get involved in dating violence if there is family history modeling that type of behavior. She believes mental health issues or past trauma in the family can predispose people to become a victim or abuser, but it varies in every situation.
Aime Hutton, a previous victim of dating violence and a Canadian ambassador for the Freedom & Empowerment Teen Campaign, said in an email that abusers might learn their behaviors and mindset from parents.
“Some people living with a mental illness may be searching for love, and since the abuser is showing them love (even if they are being hurt) they think this is what love is supposed to be like,” she added.