How healthcare providers can help domestic violence victims

October 16, 2017 | by Mary Lou Mastro

Did you know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness month?

According to Family Shelter Service in DuPage County:

  • Domestic violence directly impacts 200,000 people in DuPage County
  • An estimated 29,000 children in our county witness domestic abuse
  • Last year there were five deaths in DuPage County due to domestic violence (one the previous year)
  • A 2014 review of 37 healthcare studies indicates that 38 percent of family medicine patients and 40 percent of emergency medicine patients experience intimate partner violence during their lifetimes.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), victims of domestic violence are 80 percent more likely to have a stroke, 70 percent more likely to have heart disease, 60 percent more likely to have asthma, and 70 percent more likely to drink heavily than people who have not experienced intimate partner abuse.

Clearly, healthcare providers are in a unique position to identify potential victims of domestic violence.

Domestic violence can include emotional and/or physical abuse, so some (but not all) patients experiencing domestic violence have physical injuries. Patients may also present with a variety of stress-related issues, such as insomnia, headache, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, stomach upset, chronic pain in the chest, abdomen or pelvis, and poorer pregnancy outcomes.

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of domestic incidents are reported. Knowing how to solicit information on domestic violence and communicate properly with potential victims is critically important.

Healthcare providers can be a lifeline for victims of domestic violence. But it takes knowledge and commitment. We need to be able to ask the right questions, recognize the warning signs, and provide the right kind of help for patients who need it.

In the coming year, Gina Sharp, President of Linden Oaks Hospital, will be chairing a committee at Edward-Elmhurst Health to improve our core competencies in identifying and reaching victims of domestic violence. This will include the offering of professional training and support groups.

Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

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