Home » How Abuse, Violence, Bullying, and Discrimination Affect Our Health

How Abuse, Violence, Bullying, and Discrimination Affect Our Health

by Melissa Bell
8 minutes read

Abuse, violence, bullying, and discrimination are not only social dilemmas. They can lead to physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health problems. Partner violence is the most significant risk factor for disease, disability, and death among young women. Women between the ages of 18–45 and children are the most vulnerable groups.

According to data published by WHO, 30% of women in relationships report that they have been subjected to physical or sexual abuse by a partner during their lifetime. Up to 38% of murders of women in the world are made by their sexual male partners. We will look at how different types of violence and discrimination form the basis of health problems and how to fight with it.

Abuse and Women’s Health

Different medical organizations are paying more and more attention to the problems associated with violence because it leads to direct and indirect health consequences and poor quality of life. Slightly less than half of the victims of partner violence reported injuries. In the worst case, it led to death.

Other direct consequences are unwanted pregnancy, abortions, and STDs. According to the results of an analytical study, sexually transmitted infections are half times more common in women who have experienced physical or sexual violence. Abuse during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and the birth of a child with low body mass.

Even if there is no physical damage, this does not mean that the abuse did not leave a psychological trauma. Indirect consequences of family violence can be depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety disorders. People who have experienced family violence are more likely to abuse alcohol and take drugs. In women suffering from abuse, the likelihood of depression or alcoholism is doubled compared to the rest.

Cardiovascular disease can also be a result of violence. In women subjected to physical and sexual abuse, their early manifestations were found significantly more often than in others. In the United States, a large National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult was conducted. It lasted fourteen years and included 90 thousand participants. According to it, young women who suffered from abuse had an increased risk of developing heart disease over the next thirty years.

The Consequences of Child Abuse

Abuse in relation to children and adolescents is another huge problem. It not only makes people susceptible to various diseases and addictions but also launches a vicious cycle, contributing to abuse in future generations. Sexual violence at later stages of life can lead to risky sexual behaviors that increase the risk of infections or unwanted pregnancies.

According to the results of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult, all abused children were subsequently at risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Already by adulthood, it increased threefold for every seven events of childhood abuse. Exposure to violence is a form of toxic stress.

Violence affects the brain and autonomic nervous system. The body is able to adapt to short-term stresses but constant abuse does not provide space for adaptation. Children who have been abused themselves or have witnessed violence against their mothers are more likely to suffer from hypertension, peptic ulcer, intestinal disorders, diabetes mellitus, and neurological diseases.

Bullying and Discrimination

Different types of discrimination and bullying also lead to multifaceted problems. It is not only the psychological stress or financial consequences of inequality but also illnesses related to the leading causes of death around the world. There was recently published results of a study in which 79 thousand working men and women from 18 to 65 years old were involved. It turned out that bullying and violence at work were associated with a risk of cardiovascular diseases in the population and the effect depended on the “dose” of exposure.

Discrimination leads to stress and physical and emotional exhaustion. In the United States, African Americans are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease. The study found that the expression of genes associated with arterial hypertension in African Americans depended on the discrimination they were subjected to. According to the results of genetic analysis, the more often a person was subjected to injustice, the more active these genes were.


Disease and Risk of Violence

Discrimination and abusive practice worsen health but there is a reverse trend when some diseases increase the risk of violence. There is a correlation between some mental illnesses and violence. People with these illnesses are more likely to be victims of family and other violence but their risk of abusive behavior may be increased.

Aggression is less often associated with the disease itself than with the abuse of alcohol or psychoactive substances. The most important thing here is to remove the taboo on the topic of mental illness so that people are not afraid to consult a doctor in time for help.

People with chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia or diabetes mellitus often face a lack of understanding from others, the inability to determine the diagnosis or receive treatment. Stigmatization, physical and psychological exhaustion contributes to increased levels of stress which can lead to depression or aggression. Changes in behavior can occur due to endocrine disorders as “steroid rage” with hypercorticism or emotional liability with hyperthyroidism.

Aggressive behavior also occurs in people with dementia for a number of reasons. This is frustration due to impaired memory and thinking, changes in personality structure, depression, episodes of delirium (motor excitement with clouding and impaired perception of reality) or delusions (distortions in the perception of the world).

Violence as an Infection

Serious strategies and the involvement of different organizations are needed to counter violence. In 2018, a debate erupted in the Ethics Journal of the American Medical Association about whether it is necessary to treat violence as an infectious disease and “treat” it.

One group of authors proposed treating violence as infection and involve the healthcare system in solving the problem and Cure Violence is this system. It has been implemented in some cities in the USA for fifteen years and is quite effective.

Like the infectious process, violence has an “incubation period”. The authors compared the abuse to tuberculosis as it develops slowly and it may take years from the time when the victim becomes an abuser. Violence can be “infected” as people reproduce in their own families the models of abuse that they observed.  Like diseases, violence has risk factors such as poverty and low levels of education.

Different organizations participate in processes of treating this disease and each of them has its own role. Police and social workers are the “violence breakers” group. They identify the “disease” and prevent its spread. Teachers and social workers are “propagandists” who identify risk groups and try to reduce the likelihood of violence. Doctors and other health workers treat victims of violence, including psychological consequences.


A Complex Approach

Opponents of comparing violence with infection propose another model. A toxic environment plays the main role in it and the “treatment” is based on the reduction of inhibitory factors of this environment. First of all, this is a low level of education, low quality of life, discrimination, alcohol abuse, society’s tolerance for violence, and gender inequality. World Health Organization considers family honor, “sexual cleanliness”, and weak legal penalties for sexual abuse.

The health sector shouldn’t be the only one to deal with abuse. We need a multidisciplinary approach that requires the involvement of doctors, psychotherapists, social workers or private centers, representatives of the legislative, judicial, and executive authorities. We need to work with a “toxic environment” by improving the quality of education and living standards, a favorable information atmosphere as eliminating manifestations of sexism and other types of discrimination.

Abuse Statistic in the USA

In the USA, one in four women and one in seven men were victims of physical abuse by a partner. Every fourth and every ninth one was harmed as a result of violence (including sexual) or harassment by a partner. Every seventh and every eighteenth were pursued by a partner throughout life while experiencing fear for themselves or their loved ones.

Only 34% of people who were injured as a result of abuse will receive medical care. Every fifth child becomes a victim of physical abuse every year.

What You Need to Know in Order Not to Fall Under the Influence of Violence

All we can do is minimize the aggressor’s effects. Healthy selfishness is the best way to protect yourself. It’s hard if somewhere inside, you have a desire to please everyone, become a mythical “good person”, and earn the approval of others. This desire pushes us to please an abuser.

Ignoring the abuser is the best way. When manipulations on guilty feelings and low self-esteem will not give effect and impact, bullying will become uninteresting to the abuser. In order to not become dependent on toxic relationships, you need to be independent.

The job of the abuser is to assert power over the victim and attach it to themself, that is why bullying is rarely directed at people with noticeable self-sufficiency. So don’t be shy because of your skin color, appearance imperfections, and other things that distinguish you from others.

Related Articles