Primary Doctors Key to Abused Women Getting Mental Health Treatment

Posted on July 10th, 2013
Posted in PTSD

If you have ever been abused, you know the devastation and destruction it can wreak on your life. Women who have experienced abuse at the hands of a partner often struggle with low self-esteem and other emotional and mental issues, even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). New research suggests that most women who have been abused by a spouse or partner are not getting the help they need. Domestic violence can have very far-reaching effects, and without proper care and treatment, recovering a normal lifestyle and good mental health is nearly impossible.

The Impact of Domestic Abuse

The harm caused by domestic violence is obvious when you think in physical terms. Violence against a woman can create any number of immediate health problems, like broken bones, bruises and internal bleeding. Health impacts can extend beyond the initial incident too. A woman may develop chronic pain, eating disorders, gastrointestinal disorders and physical deformities as a result of abuse.

What is less obvious to those on the outside is the effect that abuse has on a woman’s mental health. Depression and anxiety disorders are common in abused women, and PTSD is not unheard of. Many women who have been abused also turn to drugs or alcohol and develop substance abuse problems over time. Women who have suffered abuse at the hands of a partner are also more likely to be suicidal.

In addition to the negative impacts on the woman herself, the effects of abuse spread even further. Up to half of women being abused need to take regular time off from work and are unable to do normal daily activities for significant periods of time. Children of women who are abused suffer because they may witness the abuse and develop their own mental health issues. Mothers are often less able to care for their children when they are being abused by a partner.

Women Not Getting Help

Of all the harm cause to women who are abused, mental health issues are often the most long-lasting and far-reaching. With a mental disorder brought on by abuse, a woman may struggle to function ordinarily, when taking care of her kids, performing at work, initiating new relationships, or having a satisfying social life.

Unfortunately, new research shows that women are not getting enough help to heal from the mental effects of abuse. Social work researchers at the University of Missouri surveyed victims of domestic abuse and found that more than half of them suffered from depression, PTSD, or both illnesses. Most of the women, though, had not sought any help for their issues.

Researchers believe that there are several reasons women are not getting the help they need. They feel shame about the abuse they have suffered and struggle to admit it to anyone. They also may fear the social stigma attached to mental illness and domestic abuse and worry about privacy. Some women may simply not know that there are services available and that those services can help them to feel better and to recover from abuse.

What to Do

The authors of the study on domestic violence and services found that primary care doctors were in a unique position to help these women. Although most of the women in the study did not seek mental health services, they did regularly see their primary care physician. This means that doctors can help victims of abuse by screening their patients. When a doctor intervenes and helps a woman struggling because of abuse, she can be led to use the available mental health services.

Primary care doctors can also help their abused patients in other ways. The researchers found that these women lacked mental health care, but also had trouble finding legal assistance, housing, and other practical services. Physicians could also help direct their patients to the resources that could help them in a variety of ways.

Women experiencing abuse are vulnerable to all kinds of problems, not least of which are mental illnesses. That these at-risk women are not getting adequate help is a problem for everyone. When physicians step in and help their patients, they can make a huge impact.

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