Ten Healthcare Consequences Resulting from “Psychological Battering”

by Ellen Taliaferro, MD, FACEP

Did you know that psychological battering is bad for your health? Victims and survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV)--also referred to as domestic violence, have long known that they are never the same after the abuse. The impact of that abuse lingers on and results in poor health for many.

Until the last few years, little research focused on the health consequences of IPV—especially those stemming from non-injury abuse. What research did exist, for the most part, focused on the consequences of injuries past physical abuse. Ignored were the health consequences of long-term psychological abuse.

In the year 2000, Dr. Ann Coker and colleagues published the results of their survey of 1152 women seeking medical care from family medicine clinics. These researchers discovered that 53.6% of these women had experienced some type of IPV sometime in their lifetime. For most, the abuse was experienced at around the age of 22.

What distinguished their research from previous research is the fact that they examined psychological abuse as well as physical abuse. They found that 13.6% of the women surveyed experienced psychological IPV without any form of physical IPV.
Psychological violence is defined as psychological battering or emotional abuse. It is characterized by the victims’ continuous feelings of susceptibility to danger, loss of power and control, and entrapment.

Dr. Coker and her colleagues found that when compared to women who never experienced IPV, women who experienced psychological IPV were significantly more likely to report their physical and mental health to be poor. They also reported ten adverse health outcomes arising from their psychological battering :

Ten bad health outcomes associated with psychological battering in intimate partner violence settings

• Disability preventing work
• Arthritis
• Chronic pain
• Migraine and other frequent headaches
• Onset of stammering
• Sexually transmitted infections
• Chronic pelvic pain
• Stomach ulcers
• Spastic colon (irritable bowel syndrome)
• Frequent indigestion, diarrhea or constipation.

An important thing to note here is that Coker et al found psychological IPV to be as strongly associated with the majority of adverse health outcomes as physical IPV was. Another significant finding was that 87.5% of women who reported abuse of any kind were in only one relationship characterized by IPV.

Dr. Coker’s subsequent research has indicated that social support may modify the effect of IPV on health. This underscores the important role of the survivor advocates and professionals who care for and support victims of IPV.

© Copyright 2005 Ellen Taliaferro, MD.
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