The Aftermath Of Domestic Violence

Source:
* The Shoebox Project, a PHARMAPRIX AIMEZ. VOUS. charity partner.

What are the health effects of domestic abuse?

The results of domestic violence or abuse can be very long-lasting. People who are abused by a spouse or intimate partner may develop:

  • sleeping & eating problems
  • depression
  • anxiety attacks
  • headaches, chronic pain
  • digestive problems (IBS)
  • fibromyalgia
  • low self-esteem
  • substance abuse as a way of coping
  • increased risk of unplanned or early pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases

Pregnancy can be especially dangerous for women who are in abusive relationships. Problems during pregnancy such as low weight gain, anemia, infections and bleeding are higher for these women.

Domestic violence can be fatal; women are both intentionally murdered by their partners and lose their life as a result of injuries inflicted by them. Research also shows that women who are abused may be more likely to commit suicide.

 

What is the effect of domestic violence on children?

Children who witness domestic violence may develop serious emotional, behavioral, developmental, or academic problems. As children, they may become violent themselves, or withdraw. Some act out at home or school; others try to be the perfect child. Children from violent homes may become depressed and have low self-esteem.

As they develop, children and teens who grow up with domestic violence in the household are:

  • more likely to use violence at school or in the community in response to perceived threats
  • more likely to attempt suicide
  • more likely to use drugs
  • more likely to commit crimes, especially sexual assault
  • more likely to use violence to enhance their reputation and self-esteem
  • more likely to become abusers in their own relationships later in life 

 

Psychological Trauma

 

Emotional or Psychological Trauma is the result of extremely stressful or disturbing events that leave you struggling with persistent upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety. The event often involves a threat to a person’s life or safety, or that of their loved ones. Trauma can be caused by one-time events like an accident, violent attack, natural disaster, or by ongoing, relentless stress like being a victim of an abusive relationship.

 

  • An event can lead to trauma if:

 

  • It happened unexpectedly
  • You were unprepared for it
  • You felt powerless to prevent it
  • It happened repeatedly
  • Someone was intentionally cruel
  • It happened in childhood

 

  • Traumatic events can happen to anyone, however there are risk factors that make some of us more likely to experience psychological trauma or develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following a disturbing event than others. These include:

 

  • Already under heavy stress before the event(s) occurred
  • Recently suffered a series of losses
  • Has been traumatized before (especially if it occurred in childhood)
  • History of mental illness
  • Little or no social support after the event

 

 

Symptoms of Trauma:

 

Everyone reacts to trauma in different ways, and part of healing is realizing that that even if you are feeling “crazy”, your responses are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances. Some common symptoms of trauma include:

 

  • Emotional & Psychological Symptoms:
    • Shock, denial, disbelief
    • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
    • Anger, irritability, mood swings
    • Anxiety and fear
    • Guilt, shame, self-blame
    • Withdrawing from others
    • Feeling sad or hopeless
    • Feeling disconnected or numb

 

  • Physical Symptoms:
    • Insomnia or nightmares
    • Fatigue
    • Being startled easily
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Racing heartbeat
    • Edginess and agitation
    • Aches and pains
    • Muscle tension
  • Trauma symptoms typically last from a few days to a few months, gradually fading as you process the event
  • Symptoms may reemerge in response to triggers such as a court hearing, an anniversary of the event, or something that reminds you of the trauma

 

 

Tips for recovering from Trauma:

 

Everyone recovers from traumatic events in their own way, but the following actions can help speed up the process and help you feel like yourself again.

 

  • Exercise
    • Movement and exercise helps burn off adrenaline and releases endorphins. This helps your nervous system reset itself and relieves symptoms of anxiety and fear.
    • Exercise that is rhythmic and engages both your arms and legs (like walking, running, swimming, aerobics) is ideal.
  • Talk
    • It’s important that you have someone who will listen attentively to your thoughts and feelings without judgement. Turn to a trusted family member, friend or a trained counsellor.
    • Consider joining a support group for other survivors of trauma. Being with others who are facing the same problems can help reduce your sense of isolation and can inspire you in your own recovery
  • Socialize
    • Following a trauma, you may want to withdraw, but isolation and spending too much time alone tends to make things worse.
    • Meeting with friends doesn’t necessarily mean you have to talk about the trauma. Comfort comes simply from feeling engaged and accepted by others.
    • Consider reconnecting with old friends, volunteering, or taking a class, even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing. Work to regain worthy connections, but don’t bother with relationships that diminish or discourage you in any way.
  • Practice self-soothing
    • You may feel agitated, anxious or out of control but there are many ways to self-regulate your nervous system and calm yourself down. An easy one is mindful breathing – if you are feeling upset or disoriented, take 60 breaths, focusing your attention on each ‘out’ breath.
    • Yoga, drawing, writing or running may also help refocus your thoughts and give you a physical outlet for your emotions.
  • Take care of yourself
    • Unhealthy habits can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and limit your ability to cope with the stress of trauma.
      • Sleep – your sleep patterns may be off due to insomnia or nightmares, but try to go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, and aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
      • Avoid alcohol and drugs – these can worsen your symptoms, make sleeping more difficult, and increase feelings of depression and anxiety.
      • Eat well – Again, your appetite may be lacking, so try eating small healthy snacks throughout the day. Avoid sugary and fried foods that can affect your mood.

 

 

Helping a loved one deal with trauma:

 

It can be difficult to support someone who has suffered a trauma, but your support can be instrumental to their recovery.  Here are some tips on being an effective support person:

 

  • Be patient and understanding – Remember that everyone’s response to trauma is different and everyone heals at a different pace. Try not to compare your loved one’s reaction with anyone else’s.
  • Offer practical support – You may feel helpless in helping your loved one process their emotions, but there are plenty of practical things you can do to help in their recovery: buy groceries, help with paperwork, pick up the kids from school, etc.
  • Be there to talk or listen – Some trauma survivors find it difficult to talk about what happened, so don’t force your loved one to open up, but let them know that you are there to listen if they want to talk.
  • Help your loved one to socialize and relax – Encourage them to participate in physical exercise, pursue hobbies and social activities that bring them joy.
  • Don’t take symptoms personally – Your loved one may become angry, irritable, withdrawn and distant. Remember that their response is a result of the trauma and likely has nothing to do with you or your relationship.

 

 

When to seek professional help:

 

Recovery from trauma takes time and everyone heals at their own pace, but if months have passed and your symptoms remain the same, you may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and will help from a trained professional. We recommend you seek help for trauma if you are:

 

  • Having trouble functioning at home or work
  • Feeling nervous or on-edge at all times
  • Often feeling like something terrible is about to happen
  • Suffering from severe fear, anxiety, depression
  • Unable to maintain relationships
  • Lost interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Sudden attacks of dizziness, shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat
  • Experiencing terrifying flashbacks or nightmares
  • Avoiding more and more things that remind you of the trauma
  • Emotionally numb and disconnected from others
  • Using alcohol or drugs to feel better

 

 

Finding Help to deal with Trauma

 

Many people feel guilt or shame around seeking help for trauma, as we are conditioned to think we should “just get over it” or “move on” when a traumatic event occurs. It’s important to take your feelings and symptoms seriously and seek help if it would be useful.

 

If you are feeling like hurting yourself or others, call 911 or go to the emergency room of the closest hospital.

 

  • Counselling – there are many therapeutic interventions that have been proven to be effective in treating PTSD. The best way to find a clinician who specializes in trauma would be to get a referral from your family doctor.

 

  • Support Groups – Talking to people who have gone through similar traumatic experiences and are having the same types of symptoms can be incredibly reassuring. Contact your local community mental health organization to inquire about available groups or again, your family doctor will likely be a good resource.

 

  • Medication – Your physician or a psychiatrist can prescribe medication to help relieve symptoms of anxiety, sleep deprivation or depression. These medications work best, however, if taken in conjunction with some type of therapeutic counselling.

               

Resources:

http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/#.WVPmBRPyuu4

http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/health_information/a_z_mental_health_and_addiction_information/Post-traumatic/Pages/pstd.aspx

http://www.stopvaw.org/health_effects_of_domestic_violence

http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/tc/domestic-violence-harmful-effects-of-domestic-violence