October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a nationwide effort to help recognize, prevent, and respond to a serious health crisis affecting a tremendous number of women — and men — across the country. Domestic violence refers to physical, emotional, or verbal abuse between intimate partners. Though this abuse can take many forms and degrees of severity, abusers often 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 your health, but the impact is substantial. The stress of abuse can take a physical toll. Some of the most common effects include over-eating, depression and anxiety, frequent headaches, and hypertension. It can also increase a woman’s risk for chronic health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, asthma and depression. Additionally, abuse can limit a woman’s ability to effectively manage chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
Futures Without Violence is working with community health centers and domestic violence programs 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. Here are some proven steps you can take to help you cope and improve your health:
- Talk to your health care provider about things you may be doing to help you cope, such as drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, or over-eating, and discuss 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. 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 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 health care setting, please visit healthcaresaboutipv.org.
The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health.