My experience of stalking and mental health

A victim of stalking explains how her experience of being stalked impacted on her mental health, and how accessing the right therapy, support and advocacy services helped her to rebuild her life.

When I first separated from my husband due to psychological domestic violence, I believed that would be the end of the nightmare. Unfortunately, I was clearly wrong. Within days of my leaving, I began to receive endless accusatory messages and emails, with some of these emails demonstrating that my ex knew where I was at the time that he was contacting me. This behaviour escalated and, as we were still married at that point, he still had a legal right to enter the marital home. This is something he did one evening around midnight. My first awareness was the terrifying experience of him standing at the foot of the bed in the dark—in my room, my space and without my permission or consent. Even after I left this home to try to avoid these ongoing issues and moved into rented accommodation, this behaviour from my former partner continued. He would turn up at my home late in the evening for no reason—again, an extremely frightening experience.

Even when I was at work, I could not get away from my former partner, now my stalker. He would send me flowers at work, and leave notes on my car when it was parked in the staff car park. These behaviours led to me being extremely anxious and frightened, which impacted on my ability to work as a lecturer. I would feel terror when I saw a car like his, or when there was a knock at the door. I would not open the curtains, and stopped going out socially.

I rang Women’s Aid one morning at 3 am due to feelings of desperation, compounded by the lack of sleep. They referred me to the National Stalking Helpline at the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. My first phone call lasted for two hours, during which I was sobbing down the phone to the support worker. It became very clear to me during this call that what I was feeling was not unjustified, and that what I was dealing with was stalking.

This information aided me to take action to try to stop the ongoing stalking, which was a very difficult process. I attended the court on my own to apply for a non-molestation order. This was granted, but I was then required to return a week later to face my husband who was permitted to dispute the order. Thankfully, the non-molestation order remained in place for 6 months, but unfortunately even this did not deter my stalker. He went onto to breach this order a further 6 times by emailing me, and on one occasion he walked up to me at an event for our children. This incident might seem minor, but it was a breach of the order against him and it terrified me. Once again, I was left in a state of panic because he was permitted to flout the order and get away with it. It was at this point that I went to see my GP as I was no longer able to sustain work at this point, due to the constant panic attacks. Due to the ongoing psychological trauma I had lost all emotional feeling towards my children and my family. I felt like I was just in survival mode, getting up, and maintaining their daily needs but being unable to fully function.

My GP suggested that I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and I was referred to a therapeutic counselling service provided by the NHS. On the first appointment I was assessed at the highest rate for anxiety and depression (GAD-7 and PHQ-9). I have later learnt that these are not specific to PTSD. After a few months of therapy and being placed on medications, I was able to begin to control the anxiety and feel some emotional warmth towards my children again. I was also able to teach again. I still live with the fear of something happening to me, and have serious concerns for my personal safety.

Research into the impacts of stalking on victims’ mental health and wellbeing is pivotal in supporting those who have suffered from stalking. I was surprised when my GP diagnosed PTSD, but unfortunately it was recorded as anxiety, although I do not know why. While I was lucky to receive a positive and fast response from the NHS, others are not so fortunate, as the new research shows. My children are currently undergoing counselling from an amazing service provided by Women’s Aid, although my 4-year-old cannot access this until she is 5. It is such a shame there is no provision for her as she talks most about what she remembers. She needs appropriate support to help her deal with this as well as possible, and it is really unfair that she cannot yet access this.

Without the Suzy Lamplugh Trust I hate to think where I would have ended. I was desperately in a bad way, because I felt like I was going mad. Speaking to the National Stalking Helpline was like having an undiagnosed illness that someone suddenly gave me a name for. That was such a healing experience and the start to our family rebuilding. I would urge anyone who is going through the traumatic, stressful and terrifying experience of being stalked to reach out to get support—to advocacy services, health services and the police.