Domestic violence and your physical health
The effects of domestic violence on your health
Domestic violence has a considerable impact on your health and well-being, and that of your children. The direct and immediate physical effects of domestic violence include injuries such as bruises, cuts, broken bones, lost teeth and hair, miscarriage, stillbirth and other complications of pregnancy. The results of domestic violence can also be long-term and may cause or worsen, chronic health problems of various kinds, including asthma, epilepsy, digestive problems, migraine, hypertension, and skin disorders. Domestic violence also has an enormous effect on your mental health, and may lead to increased use of alcohol, drugs and other substances. (See Domestic violence and your mental health
and Alcohol and other drugs
.) The health of your children is also likely to have been seriously affected from witnessing abuse directed at you, and also in many cases from abuse which they themselves may have suffered. (See Children and domestic violence
As a result of domestic violence, you may need medical treatment both immediately and in the long-term. If you have been injured, you should try to have it treated straight away. You could go to your GP or to an NHS Walk-in Centre, or to an Accident and Emergency Department or Minor Injuries Unit at your local hospital. Do tell them how the injury occurred and ask them to record it - you may need this evidence later, if you are involved in court proceedings (for example, if you make an application for an injunction, if there is a contact or residence dispute over your children, or if your abuser is prosecuted for a criminal offence). Some health services will photograph injuries, with your permission, and if they are signed and dated, they are often very useful additional evidence in court.
Tell the doctor or nurse if you think you may be pregnant. In this case, you may need to be examined by a midwife to ensure that the baby has not been affected by the violence. Domestic violence often starts or gets worse during pregnancy, and it has been identified as a prime cause of miscarriage and still-birth, and of maternal deaths during or after childbirth.
The response that you get from your GP, health visitor or midwife may not always be very helpful. It often depends on the individual, and whether he/she has had appropriate training, and is backed up by managers and colleagues who take a consistent and sympathetic approach. In the past, health professionals have not always responded as well as they should have done to women experiencing domestic violence. In recent years, however, following lobbying by Women's Aid both at national level with the Department of Health, and at local level with health care providers, many health workers have become more involved in this issue, with midwives and health visitors being in the forefront of the change. This involvement has been supported by the circulation of government publications and guidelines. (See also Useful links
and topic areas alcohol and drugs
, sexual violence
and mental health
If you are worried about your health, and don't want to go to your GP, you could ring NHS Direct on 0845 4647 (24 hours). NHS online
provides information on health services and links to other agencies and self-help organisations.
Women’s Health Concern has nurse counsellors available to answer your health questions and concerns. They are available Monday and Tuesday from 10.00am to 2.00pm and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10.00am to 1.00pm Contact them by calling 0845 123 2319 (local rates).
Their website is www.womens-health-concern.org