Intimate partner violence and brain injury: the invisible disability meets the silent pandemic.

Brain Injury Awareness month brings a spotlight to The Cridge Centre for the Family’s trailblazing work in supporting survivors of brain injury and intimate partner violence.

The statistics above have not included the following survivors of a brain injury.

1 in 4 women in Canada will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetime. It is reported that for every NHL player who sustains a concussion in sport, 5,500 Canadian women sustain the same injury from IPV.  In Canada, it is estimated that more than 200,000 women a year receive brain injuries inflicted by their intimate partners, with up to 92% of IPV incidents involving hits or punches to the head or face, banging of the head against a hard object, or strangulation. Survivors of IPV are at an increased risk of experiencing adverse medical health outcomes such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and suicide.  Sadly, most women with intimate partner-caused brain injuries are undiagnosed and unsupported, resulting in life-changing negative outcomes.

Developing informed services and supports is a critical aspect of the work ahead, but there is an equally urgent need for improved screening; training for professionals in recognizing IPV/BI; and surmounting a deep-rooted double stigma that stubbornly affects society’s views and actions on the subjects of both domestic violence and brain injury, no matter how much science points to the urgency of the need.

Identifying brain injuries is complicated, particularly in women who may also be suffering the mental health impacts of physical and emotional trauma. Brain injuries can cause disorientation, memory loss, emotional dysregulation and cognitive deficits – making employment or education difficult, and leading to addiction, suicide, homelessness, and the removal of a woman’s children. Furthermore, if the injury remains undiagnosed, it too often can appear as if a person just, “can’t get their life together.”

IPV-BI survivors may struggle to find and maintain work, maintain relationships, or manage parenting. They may suffer routinely from fatigue, chronic pain, and overly strong and unpredictable emotional responses – and all the social and economic implications of that – without ever understanding that it’s related to a brain injury.

Women impacted by intimate partner violence are often left unsupported and undirected in navigating various systems, such as police, legal, medical, housing, child protection, income assistance, and employment services. Brain injury affects every person differently and can be managed in a number of ways when people are well-supported and understand how their brain injury affects them, but an undiagnosed, unrecognized, and unacknowledged brain injury yields no support.

The Cridge Centre for the Family is dedicated to the development and implementation of a holistic approach to the intersectionality of intimate partner violence and brain injury, recognizing the complimentary roles of advocacy, training, prevention, and research in delivering effective and sustainable direct services. The Cridge currently offers client-centred, individualized, and trauma-informed skills, knowledge and support to women impacted by both IPV and BI. The vision is for women to feel safe and supported in redesigning their life to meet their maximum potential through meaningful engagement in the community, increasing access and navigation to medical, legal and community systems, and life skill development. This cannot be done without raising awareness and recognition about brain injury and its impacts on survivors of IPV, and providing solutions for change and growth through advocacy, research and training.

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The Cridge Centre for the Family has been providing hope and support for vulnerable people since 1873. We have a legacy of love and care that has stretched over generations, across cultural barriers and into the darkest places. You’ll find us in a number of locations in Greater Victoria and our services span every age, ability and walk of life. Programs include The Cridge Transition House for Women, Supportive Transitional housing, Brain Injury Services, Childcare and Seniors’ Services, Respite and Respitality services, the Young Parent Outreach Program and the Intimate Partner Violence and Brain Injury Program.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay