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Health Soc Care Community. 2003 Jan;11(1):10-8.

Experiences of seeking help from health professionals in a sample of women who experienced domestic violence.

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St George's Hospital Medical School, Department of Forensic Psychiatry, London, UK.


The present paper describes a qualitative study of women who suffered domestic violence. The aim was to explore their experiences of seeking help from health professionals and assess their psychological health. Purposive sampling was used to select a subsample from a larger sample of women who were screened for domestic violence as part of a study undertaken at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals in London, UK. In-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with the subsample of women during the postpartum period (up to 14 months). Interviews were conducted in women's homes and general practitioners' (GPs) surgeries. The sample consisted of 10 women who had experienced domestic violence in the past 12 months (including the current pregnancy), and six women who had experienced domestic violence in the past 12 months but not the current pregnancy. The main outcome measures included: women's experiences of seeking help from health professionals; and assessment for postnatal depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and psychological distress. Women scored highly on measures of postnatal depression and PTSD. With regard to seeking help, there was a tendency for women to regard GPs, and accident and emergency staff as less helpful compared with health visitors in responding to domestic violence. Lack of privacy, continuity of care and time constraints were dominant themes which emerged from women's contacts with health professionals. Very few women voluntarily disclosed domestic violence to a health professional and even fewer were asked directly about domestic violence by one. It is important for health professionals to enquire about domestic violence in a sensitive manner and provide a response that takes into accounts the complexity of women's needs. Domestic violence training is necessary to equip health professionals with the knowledge and skills they need to respond to domestic violence more effectively.

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