Domestic Abuse and Health
Domestic abuse has a dramatic impact on health and wellbeing. As well as causing injuries and medical conditions, it affects how you feel and how you live your life. People experience abuse in lots of different ways and the consequences vary with each individual, but common ways your health can be affected are:
- Physical Injuries Caused by Violence – including bruises, fractures, broken bones and teeth, haemorrhages and pregnancy complications
- Physical Illnesses Caused by Abuse – headaches, stomach upsets, asthma, epilepsy and other physical conditions because of stress or trauma
- Mental Distress – depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, flashbacks, eating disorders, alcohol and drugs use and suicide attempts
- Your Abuser Withholding Essential Care/Medication
- Disrupted Healthy Lifestyle– stopping you from having positive relationships with friends and family, undermining your diet and exercise choices or making it harder to give up smoking etc because you don’t have the time and energy to spend on your own health needs
- Damaged Self-Image – devastating your confidence, limiting your employment or education opportunities, attacking your sense of being a good parent and limiting your control over what your children experience
In addition to your own health suffering, children can develop illnesses, injuries and behavioural problems because of witnessing or experiencing abuse.
Domestic abuse costs the NHS over a £1 billion a year (3% of its total budget) to treat physical health (including hospital, GP, ambulance, prescriptions) and £176 million to treat mental disorders due to domestic violence (Walby 2004). The estimated physical and mental health costs for Sheffield each year are just over £11 million. Domestic abuse is taken very seriously by health services.
Getting help – health services
Don’t be afraid to tell health workers how you really got your injuries or what is really upsetting you. Most health workers are trained to respond to people who have experienced domestic abuse. They can record your injuries confidentially, (so you can decide to use them as evidence in a court case later if you want to) and they should offer you the right help and support.
From June 2010 there will be an Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (IDVAS) based full-time at Jessops, the maternity wing of Royal Hallamshire Hospital. Health workers can involve an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA), if you tell them you are scared of your partner (or another family member) and they feel you are at risk of harm. The ISVA’s job also includes promoting a better understanding of domestic abuse to health workers.
Domestic abuse and pregnancy
30% of domestic violence starts or escalates during pregnancy. It can cause health complications for mother and baby and even miscarriage.
If you are pregnant, you are entitled to see a midwife by yourself. Your midwife should ask you whether you are experiencing abuse at home, when your partner isn’t present (although different midwives handle this routine question in different ways).
Domestic violence and other abuse is the biggest cause of depression and other mental health difficulties in women. (Humphreys and Thiara, 2003; Vidgeon,2003). Women report that the impact of domestic abuse on their self-esteem and confidence is more damaging than physical injuries they experience. Because abuse happens mostly at home, it removes the sense of safety and comfort your home should create, so you are always watchful and on edge. If you are in an abusive relationship, it is common to develop traumatised reactions such as flashbacks, sleeplessness, depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders and to feel guilty and worthless as your self-esteem plummets. In cases where people feel there is no way out of the abuse, suicide attempts are also frequent.
Feel like you’re ‘going mad’
If mental health problems have been identified by your doctor, you are very vulnerable, and your partner might use this diagnosis to undermine you further. They may convince family, friends, health professionals, and even you, that you are getting confused, making things up or just ‘mad’. They may exploit your lack of confidence, saying that you couldn’t cope without their ‘help’ or that you are a bad parent and wouldn’t keep the kids if you split up. Domestic abuse workers understand what can happen in abusive relationships and can help you to make sense of the situation. The Helpline workers can listen to you and support you to make changes in your life. They can put you in touch with other support services to help you start the process of recovery. When families are affected by domestic abuse, it is recognised that the best way to help the children, is usually to support the non-abusive parent to get safe and recover. The Sheffield DACT Helpline and Outreach workers understand this and will work to help you get the support you and your children need.
Other ways your health may be affected
Sometimes, living with the tremendous strain of domestic abuse means you develop ways of coping with the stress and pain, which also hurt your health. Drinking or using drugs more than you should, self-harm and eating disorders are all common ways of dealing with the trauma. But such coping methods might also be used against you by your abuser to discredit you and make you blame yourself. They can also make it harder for you to get help or get out of the situation (especially if they supply you with drugs or alcohol and tell you that you wouldn’t cope without it). Sheffield DACT Helpline and other domestic abuse workers will recognise that such desperate ways of coping are symptoms of the abuse and not the cause. There are some specialist organisations below who offer free, confidential services for alcohol and drug misuse and eating disorders.
Recovering from abuse
After getting practical support to get safe you will need to talk about your experiences – either with supportive friends and family, a domestic abuse support worker, other people who have had similar experiences (at Women’s Group for example), or a counsellor. Recovery can take a long time, so be kind to yourself and don’t expect too much too soon.
For More Information
For more information on this issue, please see Section 14 of the Sheffield Domestic & Sexual Abuse Needs Assessment
Sheffield Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre (SRASAC): 0114 241 2766.
Sheffield Women’s Counselling Therapy Service (SWCTS): 0114 275 2157
Sheffield Mind: 0114 258 4489
Free individual counselling service
Support for Opiate use: 0114 305 0500
Support for anyone using heroin or other opiate based drugs (e.g. opiate based pain killers)
Support for non-opiate use: 0114 305 0500
Support for anyone using drugs such as cocaine, cannabis, new psychoactive substances and any other non-opiate based substances, including steroid and performance and image enhancing drugs.
Support for alcohol use: 0114 305 0500
For anyone concerned about their own or someone else’s drinking.
Phoenix Futures: 0114 268 5131
A residential family service.
The Corner: 0114 275 2051
A substance misuse service for children and young people under the age of 19.
South Yorkshire Healthy Eating Disorders Association (SYEDA): 0114 272 8822
Helpline Tuesdays & Thursdays 10-5pm
A one stop shop to help find the services available, also offers answers to sexual health questions.