May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. At The Center for Empowerment and Education (CEE), we know firsthand how trauma impacts our mental health and well-being.

By Ashley Dunn MS, MFT, NCC

We sit alongside clients as they navigate and process trauma from interpersonal violence (IPV). Violence, whether at the hands of strangers or those they know, is life changing. 

We know that trauma causes additional and intense stress on a person’s body. Stress has physiological consequences; it can lower disease resistance, raise blood pressure and blood sugar, interfere with sleep, exacerbate autoimmune disorders, and increase the risk of suicide. In addition to the physical stress responses that a person can experience, stress can result in behavioral shifts as survivors avoid or distrust others and try a variety of coping methods–some healthy, some not. Stress has emotional consequences as survivors feel grief for what has been lost, anger at the injustice, and fear for the future. Finally, there are cognitive consequences as survivors try to find reasons to explain their victimization–which often results in self-doubt, self-blame, and diminished self-esteem.

IPV survivors are at greater risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the symptoms surrounding that diagnosis. PTSD arises from exposure to violent and traumatic experiences, including experiences with IPV. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the symptoms of PTSD include intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in mood or thinking, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Research published in 2012 by A. M. Nathanson and colleagues* indicates that PTSD is experienced by 51 to 75 percent of women who are victims of IPV. Furthermore, IPV survivors often experience depression at higher rates. Depression has been diagnosed in 35 to 70 percent of IPV female victims.

Genetics, childhood, experiences, support systems, and coping skills–all impact how we deal with trauma. When trauma leaves us physically and emotionally wounded, counseling and advocacy can help. At CEE, everything we do is aimed at helping survivors get through their trauma. We have 24-hour hotlines, so survivors receive emotional support and access to resources. We have a shelter, so survivors and their children have a safe to plan and heal. We have individual counseling so trauma survivors can work through their anger, fear, and sadness. We have group counseling so survivors are surrounded by others who understand, can share their own experiences, and can help push past the isolation, the self-doubt, and the walls to offer support and comfort. 

We have Advocates at Danbury Superior Court, so survivors don’t face a courtroom alone, so they have a voice in court proceedings, so they know how to get restraining orders to keep themselves and their children safe. Our Advocate at Danbury Police Station makes reporting easier for victims. In addition, our Advocates accompany victims at the hospital following an assault to support survivors.

We have prevention and education programs, so the next generation is spared some of the trauma their parents and grandparents experienced. We have workshops, community outreach, legislative advocacy, and bi- and tri-lingual professionals waiting to help.

Trauma causes pain, but connection with others can minimize that pain. That’s what we do. If you’ve been hurt, we’re here for you. If you or someone you know needs help, turn to CEE.

Our no-cost confidential hotlines are available 24/7.

24/7 Domestic Violence Hotline (203) 731-5206

24/7 Sexual Assault Hotline (203) 731-5204



*Nathanson, A. M., Shorey, R. C., Tirone, V., & Rhatigan, D. L., 2012


This article was written by Ashley Dunn MS, MFT, NCC, president and CEO of The Center for Empowerment and Education.