When we think of concussions and brain injury in Canada we usually think of sports, car accidents, battlefield injuries and falls. We rarely consider that domestic abuse is a leading cause of brain injury. It is a shameful but true fact.
We know that in Canada a woman is killed every week by her partner and that 1/3 of all women will suffer violence at the hand of a partner in their lifetimes. What we don’t know is how many abused women and children suffer TBI as a result of the abuse they suffer. 90% of partner violence report having taken blows to the head, neck and face.
Survivors of domestic abuse face many challenges when leaving abusive relationships. Most of the challenges are easy to identify (housing, job, income). Shelters are equipped to address the visible needs. The invisible needs like brain damage are much harder to assess and address. The impacts of brain injury can include headaches and double vision, to impaired cognitive abilities. The injuries worsen the longer a person is abused. These injuries may also account for some o the reason that women don’t leave their abusers. They begin to lose the ability to reason the appropriate course of action or they may be so depressed due to the brain damage that they can see no alternative.
Many abused people (men and women) are hesitant to ask for help as their situation is embarrassing. There is a lot of stigma associated with being abused. PTSD and depression and anxiety are all factors in the lack of seeking help.
Survivors of domestic abuse often report difficulty sleeping. Research indicates this is directly a s result of the brain damage as well. The cognitive deficits that are more likely with long term abuse lead to memory and learning challenges which makes it even more difficult for spouses to leave. They are told they are stupid and they being to believe that as their minds fail them.
Shelter, social workers and doctors must all work towards identifying abused partners and identifying the true nature of physical injuries they have sustained. Only then can the treatment begin. As a society we must also begin to talk about spousal abuse as a source of brain damage to lift the stigma that paralyses many victims from coming forward.