Our neighborhood continues to struggle to understand the shocking deaths of the who lived at the end of our street. It is a suspected case of homicide-suicide that left two school aged children without parents and a community grieving. A placid home, quiet and peaceful without any warning of the tragedy that lay ahead.
In cases of families where there is recurrent strife, domestic violence can be broadly defined as abusive behavior in an intimate relationship, whether it be marriage, dating, family, friends or cohabitation. Oftentimes the syndrome coincides with alcohol and/or drug abuse or mental illness. According to the Center for Disease Control domestic violence is considered a preventable illness and affects more than 25 million American women.
The various types of abuse; physical, sexual, emotional, verbal and economic will have devastating effects not only on the victim, but their children. In addition to physical injury, many abuse victims suffer from migraine headaches, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, chronic pain, insomnia and eating disorders. The intense criticism, fear and anxiety inflicted on the individual will cause 60% of victims to meet the criteria for depression and be at greater risk for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and post traumatic stress disorder later in life. Children of abusers need special attention and assistance to avoid repeating the pattern of the abuse and break the intergenerational cycle of abuse.
The statistics for domestic violence tell their own story. More than three women per day are murdered by their husband or boyfriend in the United States. In Washington State, at least 30% of all female homicide victims are killed by a current or former partner and between 1997 and 2001, more than half of the people who died in domestic violence related cases were woman killed by their current or former husbands or boyfriends.
The impact to our healthcare system from domestic violence is staggering. It is estimated that 10-20% of emergency room visits by women with an intimate partner are a result of domestic violence. 50% of all mental health dollars are spent on patients who were abused as children and abused women cost their healthcare plan 92% more than the general female population.
According to the Violence Policy Center (2005), homicide-suicide situations most frequently involve a female victim of a male partner, a decision by the woman to leave and a gun. A handgun is used in 92% of cases. In Florida, most incidents involve an elderly male overwhelmed by caregiving to an infirmed spouse.
The importance of a social support system cannot be emphasized enough. Women in our society generally have friends, family and community organizations more readily available to them during difficult times than males. I am saddened that there are not more services men can seek out during the troubling times of a divorce or separation. As in the Alcoholics Anonymous model, a male sponsor to a male who’s relationship recently ended could be the one factor in avoiding a tragedy that leaves countless lives devastated.
Hug your spouse, partner, children, neighbor, friend, family member and anyone you can think of whom you treasure. Our time on this earth is so short, there is always enough love to go around.
Dr. Ballard is a Board Certified Internist and Geriatrician with a special interest in Women’s Health. She practices in Enumclaw, 360-825-1389. Dr. Ballard’s comments are informational only and not to be construed as medical advice. Consult your personal physician for any medical issues.