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Women who experience domestic abuse 10 times more likely to attempt suicide

domestic abuse

By Isabel Shaw

13 Nov 2020

Women who experience domestic abuse are much more likely to attempt to take their lives than women who do not, a study has found.

By analysing data from the WHO multi-country study on women’s health – which had information on over 21,000 women from 18 countries who had ever had a partner – researchers were able to look at different forms and different combinations of domestic abuse, and their individual or combined effects on women’s mental and physical health.

This comes as the shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, and Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic abuse and safeguarding, jointly wrote to Home Secretary, Priti Patel, calling on the Government not to repeat the same mistakes it made during the first national lockdown in the spring.

In the letter, the MPs called for additional funding to be made available to charities so that victims of domestic abuse can be supported.

Over 15% of women in the study who had had a partner had also experienced a combination of domestic violence which included sexual abuse, according to the findings published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Women who had experienced any form of psychological, physical or sexual abuse from a partner were more likely to have poorer mental and physical health than those who don’t. However, women who had experienced multiple forms of abuse, were much more likely to have suicidal thoughts, even after the relationship had ended.

Researchers found that women who had experienced a combination of domestic violence in the last year were at least 10 times more likely to attempt suicide than women who had not.

The study also revealed that women who experienced multiple forms of domestic abuse were more likely to suffer from other health issues, such as difficulty walking, difficulty with daily activities, pain or discomfort, poor memory or concentration, dizziness, and vaginal discharge.

These same women were also more likely to consume sleeping pills or painkillers, according to the research.

The study revealed the importance of asking what form of abuse a woman had experienced and how long ago the abuse happened, so healthcare staff know how to treat them.

Study lead, Dr Lucy Potter, a GP and NIHR In-Practice Clinical Research Fellow at the Centre for Academic Primary Care, said: ‘We know intimate partner violence is damaging to health. What this study adds is the recognition of the profound harm caused by multiple forms of abuse, particularly when it includes sexual violence, and how we do not see this when all forms of abuse are lumped together as one experience.

‘Practitioners and policymakers must appreciate the diversity of experience of intimate partner violence to tailor support appropriately.’

She added: ‘We also found that these health impacts persist over a year after the abuse ends. So, effective prevention and early intervention are vital to the health of individuals and families and health systems.’

How pharmacies have helped domestic abuse survivors

When the UK was locked down in the spring, domestic abuse charities saw the number of calls made to their helplines increase by 50%.

In response to this, many pharmacies across the UK including Boots, set up safe spaces so that victims of domestic abuse can seek help during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The scheme – launched as part of the campaign UK SAYS NO MORE set up by the domestic abuse charity Hestia – used consultation rooms as safe spaces which victims can use to call up various helplines if in need of assistance.

Lyndsey Dearlove, Head of UK Says NO MORE at Hestia told the Pharmacist that she believed local pharmacies are ‘key’ to helping support domestic survivors in the long run.

‘We’ve tried this safe space pilot in several different places with limited success. When Covid-19 happened, we had to try and find a space that could help victims among the very few places still open.’

After contacting some of the possible spaces, Ms Dearlove said they received an ‘overwhelmingly positive response from pharmacy teams’ who believed they could do something.

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