Domestic violence can result in a wide range of conditions that fall into a psychiatrist’s care. According to Gail Erlick Robinson, M.D., D.Psych., F.R.C.P.C., professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, women who are domestic violence victims may be plagued by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, low self esteem, major depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, PTSD, increases in substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and behavior.
The Association of Women Psychiatrists (AWP) has made it one of its missions to publicize the issue of domestic violence and encourage education and support for its victims. A ceremonial walk and fundraising effort for Women Against Abuse (WAA), a local domestic violence program, will begin at 7 a.m. tomorrow in front of Philadelphia City Hall, 1 Penn Square.
The problem of domestic abuse is one that affects women in all areas of society. In the Philadelphia area alone last year, more than 9,500 calls were made to the domestic violence hotline and police responded to more than 115,000 domestic violence incidents, according to WAA statistics.
“We do this walk to make the issue more visible, to have an organization behind it that advocates for women, and to have the partnership of the APA,” said Eva Szigethy, M.D., immediate past president of AWP. “Domestic violence is under-recognized. There are already too few shelters and too few resources. The ones that exist face the threat of funding cuts because it’s such a silent issue in society at large.”
Annelle Primm, M.D., M.P.H., Director, Minority/National Affairs, APA, notes that there are some disparities in the frequency of domestic violence across different ethnic and cultural groups. “African Americans have one of the highest rates of domestic violence followed by whites, Latinos and Asians. Domestic violence occurs across all of these groups,” said Dr. Primm. “So it is important for us to pay attention to it regardless of what cultural group the woman may come from.”
Increasing visibility for the problem of domestic violence universally is important, but decidedly so for the psychiatrist, who must be alert to the possibilities that their patients might be a victim of abuse.
“We are in a unique position to help,” said Dr. Szigethy.
Dr. Robinson agrees that psychiatrists play an important role for women who may be suffering abusive situations. “Because women are often ashamed of being abused, they may feel it’s their fault. They may be embarrassed to tell anybody, so they often will not come forward and talk about it. Psychiatrists must be aware of this and act on it.”