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How to support someone in an abusive situation: GBV and mental health

It’s not easy to know what to do when someone we care about is facing abuse. However, by listening and being compassionate, we can support someone on their journey to getting the help they need. 

This December, we are thinking about the mental health impact of gender-based violence, as part of our focus on 16 days of activism against women and child abuse.


Violence against women not only inflicts physical harm but can have a life-long impact on their mental health. We need to talk more openly about the relationship between poor mental health and gender-based violence.

If someone you know is in an abusive situation, here are some things that you can do:

Listen: Make yourself available to listen to survivors and victims who want to confide in you. Don’t worry about knowing the right thing to say, or the right questions to ask. Listening is about creating a space for someone to share as much as they want to, without pressure of judgement. If your friend asks for your advice and you are unsure, you can say to them: I don’t know, but we can find out together/I can try to find out.

Believe them: According to People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), only 1 in 9 survivors of GBV come forward and report their cases to the police. A big reason for this is that survivors often feel that they will not be believed. You can help by just believing the survivor when they tell you their story.

Offer small practical acts of kindness: As overwhelming as GBV can be, there are practical ways in which you can help survivors and victims and their families: Share important information on where survivors can seek support. Donate to or volunteer with the Angel Network to put together care packs for survivors of sexual assault.

If you make packs you can donate them to your local Thuthuzela Care Centre. This is a one-stop centre where survivors can give their statements, undergo a forensic exam and receive crisis counselling all in one place. See a list of these at


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