Abuse Hides in the Dark. Turn on Your Light.

Are Abusers Mentally Ill? If So, What Do I Do About It?

Shows a journal page, tan with blue ink, with a depiction of a frightened wife, blaming herself, while her wild-eyed husband stares at you.

No, Probably Not.

Are abusers mentally ill? Short answer: no. It is unlikely that abusers are mentally ill. Mental illness of any kind affects about 18% of the U.S. population in general and about 18% of abusive people too.1 Most abusers are perfectly sane, with no personality disorder 2 or mental illness of any kind.

Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to people living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. 3

US Department of Health and Human Services

No one can say your abuser is mentally ill without an official psychiatric diagnosis. Yes, some abusers are mentally ill. Some people became abusive after strokes, during dementia, or while suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. However, the percentage of abusers who are mentally ill is the same as the percentage of the general population. Your abuser, male or female, is just as unlikely to suffer a mental illness as the next person you notice while out and about.

Knowing Our Abusers Are NOT Mentally Ill Sucks

It may feel comforting to imagine your abuser is mentally ill. It is easier to believe that your abuser is not at fault if he or she has an illness. However, remember that you define abuse. You decide if your loved one’s behavior is abusive or not. The abuser doesn’t get to tell you if they abuse you or not.  And no matter the reason behind your partner’s abuse, you get to decide when enough is enough. You get to choose to protect yourself (or not) from mental, emotional, and physical violence.

That said, it is bone-chilling to realize that he abuses me with control. He knows what he’s doing. And even if he does live with an undiagnosed mental illness, I can rely on this truth:

Abuse and mental illness are two separate issues. If in fact your partner does have a mental health concern, this is a separate issue to the abuse and he needs to work on and address both concerns. If he also abuses drugs or alcohol, this is a third issue that he needs to work on. None of these can be used as an excuse to abuse. ~From WhenLoveHurts.com

No matter how disassociated from reality my husband seems, he is not mentally ill. He’s a perfectly sane, controlling, abusive man. Most likely, your partner is sane, controlling, and abusive on purpose too.

He acts crazy but I feel crazy. My husband isn’t mentally ill, but his behavior causes me to doubt my sanity.

What Do I Do If My Abuser Is Mentally Ill?

It is very important to set strong personal boundaries if your abuser is mentally ill or not. If you find out that your abuser lives with a mental illness, setting boundaries is of utmost importance. Here’s one that I particularly like, written by a person living with bipolar disorder:

Mental illness is no excuse for being abusive and will not be tolerated. If you persist on being verbally abusive, I will remove myself from the situation. If you continue, I will remove you from my life and get a restraining order if I have to. When I feel like I’m in danger, you hurt me, or you threat to kill yourself or me, I will notify authorities.


You might want to research the mental condition so you know what symptoms you can expect. If doctors prescribe psychiatric medication, most of them take up to 6 weeks to work fully. Look into all of this yourself. Your partner might not tell you the truth. The stigma of having a mental illness makes people think you’re weak. We all know that an abuser can’t have “weakness” hanging over their heads. Anyway, the more you know about your partner’s mental illness and medication, the better off you will be.

There’s a saying that living with disease causes dis-ease. Well, living with someone with a mental illness can cause you to develop an anxiety disorder or depression – even posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You should look into the symptoms of those illnesses and talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling. If you did develop a mental disorder, I recommend trying psychiatric medication. It can help refresh your thinking, making it easier to decide what you want to do about the abuse.

In the end, there is no excuse for abusing another person, ever. It is up to you to decide when or if to leave your abusive relationship no matter what is going on with your partner. And, if I may add my opinion knowing what I know now, I’d leave today. You can help them from a distance if you feel it is necessary.

Suggested Reading

Should I Stay or Should I Go? by Lundy Bancroft defines the difference between domestic abuse and mental illness.

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker reminds us of some danger signals we become numb to in abusive relationships.


1 Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among U.S. Adults, National Institute of Mental Health
Any Personality Disorder, National Institute of Mental Health
3 Mental Health Myths and Facts, US Department of Health and Human Services