Domestic violence, brain injury and psychological trauma

A cause of brain injury that has been under-reported is domestic violence. Often the victims of domestic violence do not seek health care after the assault or they live in areas where the healthcare services lack the expertise and resources to identify brain injury. The nature of the victim’s relationship with the perpetrator may further prevent them from calling for help from the police, advocacy organizations or healthcare professionals. They may be one among several victims in a family or they be the one who absorbs the abuse to protect the others. Domestic violence is not confined to the poor, it occurs in all economic groups and involves men as well as women and children. For many it’s “a private issue” or “secret” that is kept hidden.

In the aftermath of abuse, the consequences of brain injury may be confused with mental health or substance abuse problems and not understood as the outcome of repeated blows to the head or strangulation attempts depriving the victim of oxygen during a violent attack by a domestic partner. The person who is agitated, depressed, forgetful, confused, having slurred speech, experiencing headaches, pain, vertigo and other physical symptoms that we associate with brain injury may be not appropriately diagnosed and treated. In situations were the abuse is ongoing, the effects of repeated brain injury are cumulative and not unlike those experienced by a boxer or football player who has had multiple concussions. Health care professionals need training in recognizing that the pattern of symptoms following domestic abuse may, in fact, be brain injury and learn to look for the real cause of problems.

In studies of the prison populations in many states, more female inmates were found to have experienced brain injuries than males. The higher rate of injuries was correlated with exposure to domestic violence. Do the behavioral and cognitive effects of brain injury account for some of the problems which land women in prison?

And, then we have the toll of psychological trauma, of living in fear of each attack and of the next event which could happen tomorrow or at any minute in a relationship characterized by explosive violence. Coupled with the effects of brain injury, PTSD symptoms are real and complicating factors.

As healthcare professionals we need to increase our awareness of domestic violence as a cause of traumatic brain injury and understand the cumulative and total effects of violence on the person. The victims of domestic violence are exposed to enormous and ongoing risk for severe brain injury and psychological problems stemming from trauma.

Click here to read a story from the New Yorker  on the real dangers of brain injury in domestic violence.

About Rolf Gainer Ph.D.

Dr. Rolf Gainer is the founder of the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute at Brookhaven Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well as the Neurological Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario, in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Gainer is a psychologist with more than twenty-five years of experience in the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. Dr. Gainer has designed and operated innovative rehabilitation programs in the United States and Canada for individuals who have been regarded as difficult to serve. He is currently involved in conducting two outcome studies related to the long-term issues faced by individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. He has presented papers throughout the United States and Canada in many professional conferences and educational forums.

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2 Responses to Domestic violence, brain injury and psychological trauma

  1. Michelle Dias March 16, 2017 at 8:49 pm #

    I am a victim of of repeated domestic violence for the last 20 year years and yes my head was his favorite place because no one could see the lumps or bruises or scars he would stab me beat me kick me bash my head in concrete tile choke me you name it it it was done untill I was unconscious sad to say i staid I am free now lucky still alive but I suffer from brain damage that affects my life I’m seeking help and looking to speak out to all women to leave ASAP that my story in short there is much more detail please contact me 2035240610 Michelle Dias

    • M.J. Clausen March 17, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

      Dear Michelle, there are some really great support groups on both Facebook and Reddit that you may wish to explore and share your important story. You may want to begin with this TBI survivors forum.

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