Health Effects of Family Violence

Many studies have shown that people who are abused in family relationships are more likely to experience low self-esteem, anxiety, depression suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Although the public tends to associate such mental health conditions with exposure to family violence, they are less likely to recognize the impact of family violence on general health. People who have experienced family violence include those who have been abused and those who have witnessed violence within the family.  This article explores the growing body of research linking family violence with a range of health effects, both short and long term. This article discusses most health impacts of family violence.

Family violence has a direct effect on physical health.
Babies born to women living with
Physical or sexual violence are more likely to be of low birth weight, also infant and child illnesses, disabilities, and death.
Children who experience physical violence are at risk of serious physical injury and even death.
Physical violence between parents may also result in injuries to children who are accidentally struck during a physical argument. Infants in particular are at risk because parents may be holding them during a confrontation. As well, children may suffer harm in utero, for example, if a pregnant mother is punched in the stomach.
Researchers are beginning to recognize the far- reaching consequences of family violence on childhood development. They have now linked child maltreatment in the early years to permanent damage to the development of the brain.  Adults who are physically assaulted by intimate partners or caregivers may have broken bones and teeth, fractures, bruises, bites, cuts, scalds, and burns. The most serious cases may result in disfigurement or even death. Sexual abuse of a partner can result in unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, pelvic pain, urinary tract and bladder infections, and related problems. Even when family violence does not result directly in injury and illness, research suggests that some people exposed to family violence cope with their situation and feelings in ways that are harmful to their health. The following coping strategies and responses to stress are associated with a greater risk of illness, or more severe and frequent symptoms.
Studies show that some people living with family violence cope with the abuse through addictions such as smoking, drinking excessively, and misusing drugs.
Many addictions have been linked to long term health problems. For example, drinking alcohol during pregnancy contributes to fetal alcohol syndrome and Fetal alcohol effects in children. Smoking is known to contribute to high blood Pressure, cancer, heart disease, low birth weight babies, and greater risk of having children who develop diabetes and obesity.
Some victims of family violence may engage in Self-Destructive Behaviors; may not care for themselves, eat properly, take prescribed medications, or visit their doctor. Some withdraw from all sources of support. Studies link self-cutting, disordered eating, and suicide to exposure to family violence.
Children living with family violence have an increased risk of adopting self-destructive and health-harming behaviour. When victims of family violence cope with their situation by engaging in self-harming behaviours, there may be long term negative health effects. For example, women with eating disorders were found to be more likely to develop osteoporosis and to experience complications during pregnancy.
Some people exposed to family violence engage in high risk sexual practices.
Children who experience sexual abuse, for example, are more likely as adolescents and adults to participate in risky practices such as unprotected sexual activity with multiple partners. This may result in sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV), unplanned pregnancy, and birth complications.
Exposure to family violence clearly contributes to higher levels of stress and People who experience family violence are at greater risk of mental health disorders and problems. Moreover, their general health and well-being are likely to be affected in both the short and long term. They may be injured, maimed, or neglected. They may adopt negative coping techniques that contribute to or worsen medical conditions. New research findings demonstrate that family violence is a health care issue. Not surprisingly, studies show that women living with family violence need substantially more medical treatment than non-victimized people. Stress can have a serious impact on numerous health conditions. Lupus, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic pain and sleep loss are a few examples of conditions that care workers can offer information on family violence and raise awareness of the health risks and consequences.
Often people who experience family violence lack a support network. They may have only health care providers or social service workers to turn to for help. Medical professionals and health care providers are well-positioned to play a major role in family violence intervention. Helping professionals who are aware of and attentive to the signs of family violence can better identify those factors that contribute to health and physical problems. They can also direct patients to community services that might provide support and offer positive ways of dealing with the violence in their lives. They can offer adults confidential opportunities to discuss the abusive situation, although they must report to child protection authorities if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected .They can encourage adults experiencing family violence to report physical assaults to the police.
It is important to stress that exposure to family violence does not predestine individuals to negative outcomes. Family violence is not a determinant of life-long ill health. Most children and victims of intimate partner violence show remarkably positive coping strategies, such as developing a positive relationship with a primary care giver, seeking out social support and achieving subsequent positive life experiences. These strategies help to foster the protective atmosphere that has been shown to reduce some of the harmful health outcomes of family violence.

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