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PUBLISHED: 6:05 PM on Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Are you in a healthy relationship?
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. During this time activities are held all across the country to promote domestic violence awareness and to educate the public about the issues and the resources available to victims.

Did you know that your relationship(s) affect your health? According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund: "Domestic violence is a health care problem of epidemic proportions. In addition to the immediate trauma caused by abuse, domestic violence contributes to a number of chronic health problems, including depression, alcohol and substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and often limits the ability of women to manage other chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension. Despite these facts, a critical gap remains in the delivery of health care to battered women, with many providers discharging a woman with only the presenting injuries being treated, leaving the underlying cause of those injuries not addressed (source: The Facts on Health Care and Domestic Violence)."

It is known that being exposed to domestic violence can evoke strong physiological reactions and can be harmful to one's health if exposed to them over a long period of time. You may want to ask yourself how your health is being affected. Are you over-eating and gaining weight? Do you often find yourself depressed or overly anxious? Do you have frequent headaches and/or chronic back or abdominal pain? Have you been diagnosed with hypertension or heart disease?

Any of these health problems may be the result of chronic stress from an abusive relationship. Making these connections can help you take steps toward better health.

If you are in a healthy relationship, you will find that your partner is willing to communicate openly when there are problems and will give you the space to spend time with other people. While none of us are perfect, as a rule are you and/or your partner kind and supportive?

Studies show that this kind of relationship leads to better physical and mental health, longer life and better outcomes for children.

Signs of unhealthy relationships include criticism by your partner that makes you feel that you are at fault for whatever the issue is, controlling behaviors such as where you go, who you talk to and how you spend money. Another sign of an unhealthy relationship is threatening behaviors and actions or pressure to have sex when you don't want to. If you recognize behaviors such as this your health and safety may be in danger.

"Bartlett Hospital recognizes the important role of routine screening for domestic violence and has since 2000," said Laura Stats, nurse and wellness coordinator for Bartlett Regional Hospital. "Our Domestic Violence policy states that we screen our female patients 16 years and older for domestic violence, and because we know men also experience abuse we screen our male patients as well."

According to Stats: "Medical professionals are in a pivotal role to screen patients and offer help. A domestic violence screening is kept confidential. Our role is to make the appropriate referrals as needed and send the message that no one deserves maltreatment and there is help available."

Some proven steps you can take to help you cope and improve your health are: talk with someone you trust about what is going on; write about the pain you have experienced; reduce your stress through deep breathing and exercise; talk to your healthcare provider about poor coping habits such as smoking, drinking, drugs, and over-eating and steps to take for change.

If your safety is at risk, here is how you can protect yourself:

• Develop a safety plan with your children including people they can call in an emergency.

• Prepare an emergency kit for a situation where you have to leave suddenly, to include keys, money, legal and important documents, medications, etc.

• Talk to your health care provider.

• If you are in immediate danger call 911.

According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, studies show that children who live in homes where their mother has been hurt are more likely to experience learning disabilities, behavior problems, drug and alcohol abuse, or even repeat abusive behavior as adults.

But children can also get through the hard times and here are some ways that you can help:

• Let them know they are NOT at fault.

• Keep an open door for if and when your child is ready to talk about their experience.

• If your child is anxious or has behaviors that concern you, consult a pediatrician or counselor.

It is important to remember that if you are being hurt by your partner, it is NOT your fault. You deserve to be safe and healthy.

There is no one formula for a healthy relationship and if you have concerns about your relationship you can contact AWARE (Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies) at 586-1090 for free and confidential services anytime.

Useful Resources

Family Violence Prevention Fund: www.endabuse.org

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: www.ncadv.org

Bartlett Regional Hospital: www.bartletthospital.org or call (907) 796-8900

AWARE (Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies): 907 586-6623 (business), (907) 586-1090 (crisis), Web Site: www.juneau.com/aware

Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault: www.andvsa.org or call (907) 586-3650


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