As we continue the conversation this month we wanted to raise awareness about domestic violence as a health care issue contributing to a number of short and long-term mental and physical health problems. Futures Without Violence points out some of the health issues that exposure to domestic violence contributes to, including depression, sexually transmitted infections, substance abuse, diabetes and even heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the monetary cost of domestic violence is also high, costing several billion dollars each year in the provision of direct medical and mental health care services.
For children exposed to domestic violence, one of the biggest risks is the threat of physical injury. In a domestic violence situation children are more likely to be abused by the adults in the home. In these situations children are also at higher risk for developing physical illnesses such as migraines, asthma and gastrointestinal problems. These health risks also don’t typically end during adolescence. In their adult years these same children are also much more prone to develop cancer and obesity, as well as the health problems mentioned above.
A study conducted in 2011 on epigenetics and stress finds that when a pregnant mother is under stress and repeatedly exposed to violence or a traumatic event it leads to a negative effect on her child’s health. This means that a child’s mental health is put at risk from exposure to violence even while still in the womb. So, children with mothers that are prenatally victimized by domestic violence are much more likely to develop aggressive behavior, anxiety and depression.
Older children exposed to this type of traumatic experience are also more likely to be victimized by other types of violence exposure, including bullying and dating violence. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study supports this understanding. The study looked at seven different categories of adverse childhood experiences including physical and sexual abuse and domestic violence. The results measured adult health, risk behavior and disease. The results showed that the more adverse experiences participants reported the more at risk they were for developing negative outcomes. A number of connections demonstrated a relationship between the participants and childhood exposure to violence and the presence of adult diseases including cancer, liver and heart disease. This connection reiterates the negative effect that this violence exposure has on children and the impact on their future health, behavior and adult coping skills.
Futures Without Violence notes that in the last several years health care professionals are beginning to get a better understanding of the impact of domestic violence on children and families. Health care settings are important in helping to address the problems of domestic violence through regular screening and identification. To learn more about how domestic violence is addressed in health care settings and recent trends for prevention please check out the Safe Start Issue Brief on Children Exposed to Violence, Pediatric Care Settings and The National Consensus Guidelines on Identifying and Responding to Domestic Violence Victimization in Health Care Settings for more information.
The long term mental, physical and monetary costs in health care for the impact of domestic violence on children are high. So, it is important that individuals, families, communities and policymakers are aware of that cost and impact.
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