It’s National Women’s Health Week, and the Office on Women’s Health is encouraging women to “be well” by paying attention to our physical and mental health, and by taking steps to implement positive changes in our lives. This week, we here at MCEDV would like to broaden that discussion to include the many intersections between women’s health and domestic violence.
That abuse is a public health issue may seem obvious to those of us working in the field, but it is isn’t necessarily as clear to the general public. There is a growing body of research showing that domestic violence has significant short and long-term health impacts for victims. A few examples:
- Higher risk of chronic health conditions including asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, frequent headaches, and chronic pain
- Higher likelihood of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Higher rates of substance abuse
- Exposure to sexually transmitted infections
- Increased risk of unplanned pregnancies
- Risk of injury or death
We all bear the health-related costs of abuse, and they are significant. According to a 2013 article in Forbes, “Domestic violence costs $8.3 billion in expenses annually: a combination of higher medical costs ($5.8 billion) and lost productivity ($2.5 billion). Addressing this issue could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars. But as long as the symptoms and consequences of domestic violence go unnoticed or overlooked, nothing changes.”
Recognizing the importance of the sector’s response to abuse, the health care community is working with the advocacy community to make that change happen. Physicians, nurses, and others in the health care setting often have unique opportunities to observe warning signs, to hear patients’ disclosures, and to intervene. MCEDV and Maine’s domestic violence resource centers offer training and technical assistance in how to screen for and respond to domestic abuse in the heath care setting.
So as we recognize Women’s Health Week in 2014, let’s not only consider how we can get more exercise, eat healthier, and de-stress our lives—though those things are important. Let us also discuss how to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship, and how to intervene if someone you know is experiencing abuse. Let’s help victim/survivors understand the resources available to them, and let’s work to foster the cultural change needed to end abuse for good.
The implications for women’s health would be staggering.