Impact of Domestic Abuse on Workers

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2020 National Women's Conference
24 October 2019

Conference notes that the impact of domestic abuse is far ranging and will and does inevitably affect workers, colleagues, families and friends.It is important that domestic abuse isn�t ignored or misunderstood within the workplace. We welcome the fact that UNISON recognises that domestic abuse is a trade union issue; has developed information and guidance and has worked with women�s committee to ensure domestic abuse is understood as a serious, recognisable and preventable issue. However, Conference is concerned that not enough is being done to make the link between women presenting with mental illness and domestic abuse. We are witnessing an increase in women accessing mental health systems. We know 1.2 million women access some form of mental health service each year. Research shows that women experiencing domestic abuse are more likely to experience poor or chronic mental health. Conversely, women who are mentally frail may also be abused. Mental health care provided to women suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and substance abuse is estimated to cost �176 million according to the Office of National Statistics. Conference believes that domestic abuse may be a root cause of a significant proportion of this mental illness and represent a significant cost, yet this remains hidden.Conference agrees with Dr Beena Rajkumar of the Royal College of Psychiatry in the Safelives publication – Safe and Well, May 2019 edition where she states that despite the fact mental health issues are more common in cases of domestic abuse, perpetrators continue to be missed (when women present to mental health services.) We are missing huge opportunities to better detect, treat and save lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society. Conference notes the important part this report has to play in better preparing mental health professionals to truly get to the heart of the lives of patients they see. Domestic abuse has devastating impact on mental health. It is important that we do not ignore the link between domestic abuse and mental illness in the workplace and understand it as serious, recognisable and it can be prevented.Dr Joht Singh Chandan, lead author and academic clinical fellow in public health at the University of Birmingham, said the burden of mental illness caused by domestic abuse in the UK could be much higher than previously thought, �considering how common domestic abuse is, it is important to understand how strongly the two are connected and consider whether there are possible opportunities to improve the lives of women affected by domestic abuse� Conference notes further that In June 2019, a study carried out at Birmingham University and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry showed that health professionals were failing to detect abuse and support vulnerable women thus highlighting that more needs to be done to train health practitioners who come into contact with women in both primary or secondary care to spot the signs of domestic abuse and to ask the right questions. Training is key to how you ask about domestic abuse, how to respond safely and how best to sign post support. The same is true in the workplace when managers are responding to staff showing mental distress.Young women are now most at risk from poor mental health according to a report in May 2019 which showed that we are facing higher rates of mental health than ever in young women and while stereotyping, sexualisation, and objectification is an issue for all women, it is particularly for young women alongside a culture of increasingly normalising violence against women and girls.Conference also notes that women who identify within the LGBT+ group have been reporting increasing domestic abuse and in particular, 25% of bi and lesbian women have experienced domestic abuse. The Scottish Transgender Alliance indicates domestic abuse sits at a shocking 80%.Conference believes that it is important that we work together with women�s organisations to break the taboo around abuse and particularly, the impact on mental health so that women feel able to speak freely and place trust in mental health services. Highlighting the importance of training about the impact of domestic abuse is key. Conference notes the experience of NTW Health branch, which is a branch within a mental health trust. Aware of staff and members who suffer from mental health and domestic abuse, the branch trained its stewards and reps with the training provided by the Police and Crime Commissioner�s Team so that reps can identify where domestic abuse is a factor, in sickness and performance meetings in the main. Conference asks the National Women�s committee to:1)Review UNISON�s guidance � Domestic violence and abuse: a trade union issue � and ensure it emphasises the importance of training for both health professionals and line managers to identify possible domestic abuse when women present with mental illness 2)Re-launch the revised guidance to raise awareness that domestic abuse can be a factor in mental illness and performance/sickness situations, including social media activity, a blog and web-materials3) Lobby and campaign nationally together with women�s organisations, charities and NGOs to highlight how domestic abuse can be a factor in mental ill-health4)Work with Labour Link and the government to raise awareness and lobby for nationally provided training for mental health services to help early recognition of possible domestic abuse so perpetrators are identified sooner and possible tragic consequences prevented