Trauma Disables and Disability Traumatizes: Part Three Of A Three Part Article
Barrier Free Living is dedicated to helping people with disabilities thrive in their communities, at our programs and shelters in the New York area.
We address the issues facing survivors of domestic violence with disabilities across our programs (Secret Garden, Freedom House and Barrier Free Living Apartments) through safe shelter and housing, trauma-informed counseling, and advocacy.
In this three part article, we will explore: why people with disabilities are at a higher risk of abuse; the likelihood of negative trauma reactions to the abuse; and how trauma and abuse can actually cause or further contribute to a disability.
How Trauma and Abuse Contribute to Disability
Disability results from trauma and abuse. Not only does disability increase the risk for abuse and trauma, trauma and abuse can actually cause or contribute to disability in some people.
Most obviously, physical or sexual abuse can lead to long-lasting physical problems, such as a permanently injured back from being thrown down the stairs or vision problems as the result of a head injury. However, there are less obvious effects of trauma and abuse.
The ongoing stress of living in an abusive, violent home can lead to chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
One study found that children who are exposed to adverse events are more likely to report serious health problems as adults, and that the risk increases with the number of events they were exposed to (Centers for Disease Control). Freedom House offers shelter to both single adults and families with children so everyone affected by the abuse can escape the situation.
People who are abused are also more likely to develop mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD, as well as borderline personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder (Centers for Disease Control, van der kolk, B.A. (2014).). These mental illnesses can have lasting effects on a person’s quality of life. As mentioned earlier, Barrier Free Living’s sites offer trauma-informed therapy to help address some of these mental health problems.
Determining the complex interaction between disability, abuse and trauma is not easy and requires comprehensive psychosocial assessments, medical assessments, and psychiatric evaluations.
At Freedom House domestic violence shelter, residents are assessed by a nurse, the occupational therapy department and their social worker. Based on these evaluations a person with a disability may be referred for an evaluation for possible traumatic brain injury, outpatient mental health treatment, and/or a medical evaluation. Freedom House and Barrier Free Living as an agency is committed to ensuring survivors receive comprehensive, trauma-informed services.
Contributor Sara Eldridge, LMSW, Assistant Director of Social Services at Barrier Free Living’s Freedom House domestic violence shelter offers her insights on Freedom House’s work with male domestic violence survivors. Sara is a licensed social worker who received a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in 2015. Sara has been a social worker at Freedom House since 2015, where she provides individual and group counseling to adults, children and adolescents. Prior to Freedom House she worked with youth in alternatives to detention and incarceration programs, student veterans and crime victims.