Domestic violence is a serious threat to health that affects a huge number of women—and men—across the country, and indeed, around the globe. The term domestic violence (also known as intimate partner violence, spousal abuse, and other similar terms) refers to physical, emotional, or verbal abuse that occurs between intimate partners—husbands and wives, same-sex couples, live-in and dating relationships. Though this abuse can take many forms and degrees of severity, the one thing that is common to all is that abusers use shame, threats, or physical harm to control their partners.
The prevalence of domestic violence in the United States is staggering: Nearly 1 in 4 women report experiencing violence from a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life. Sometimes, it is difficult to recognize the effect an abusive relationship can have on health, but the impact is substantial even in the absence of physical injuries. That is because the stress of the abuse takes a physical toll. Some of the most common effects are over-eating, depression, anxiety, frequent headaches, and high blood pressure. Experiencing an abusive relationship can also increase the risk for chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, asthma, and depression. Additionally, abuse can limit the victim’s ability to effectively manage chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or asthma.
Futures without Violence
A San Francisco-based non-profit organization, Futures Without Violence—formerly known as the Family Violence Prevention Fund—is working with community health centers and domestic violence programs across the country to expand their capacity to support survivors and victims of domestic violence. These centers, which are supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA), have received training and technical assistance and made the connection between a patient’s well-being and their relationships. As a result, these health centers are better equipped to talk to patients about domestic violence and connect them with resources for support.
Here’s one example of how a community health center site addresses relationship abuse. A patient visiting the Eastern Iowa Health Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, disclosed during a visit that her husband’s cologne made her asthma worse. When the health care provider asked the patient if she could ask her husband not to wear the cologne around her, she replied that her husband had worn the cologne intentionally to aggravate her asthma. The provider recognized this behavior as a warning sign of abuse and talked to the patient about how relationships can affect health and connected the patient (who later disclosed additional abusive behaviors) to resources for support.
If you are worried that your health is being affected by your relationship, you are not alone—help is available. Here are some proven steps you can take to help you cope and improve your health as well.
- Talk to your health care provider about some of the unhealthy behaviors you may be using to help you cope, such as drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, or over-eating. Discuss with her healthier coping strategies and how to find support for next steps. Our Survivor Brochure has tips on how to talk to your health care provider about domestic violence. It’s important to talk with someone supportive who you trust about what’s going on.
- If it is safe, write about the pain you experienced.
- Reduce your stress through deep breathing and exercise.
- If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for toll-free, 24/7 support with safety planning, housing options, and local referrals. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (TTY 1-800-787-3224).
For more than 30 years, FUTURES WITHOUT VIOLENCE has been providing groundbreaking programs, policies, and campaigns that empower individuals and organizations working to end violence against women and children around the world. For more information on tools and resources on domestic violence in the healthcare setting, please visit healthcaresaboutipv.org.
This was first posted on Womenshealth.gov on 10/14/16. It has been republished here with the author’s permission.