Latimer: Address family violence for a healthy society

Family violence includes neglect as well as physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse. Families need tools, support to make it stop.

Paul Latimer

This fall Canada’s chief public health officer released a report on family violence in our country and the statistics included in it are staggering.

About one-third of Canadians have reported experiencing abuse before the age of 15.

That is nine million neighbours, friends, co-workers and classmates. A number we can’t sweep under the rug.

A few more eye-opening statistics from the recent report include roughly 172 homicides are committed in Canada every year by a family member; and about 85,000 people are victims of violent crimes committed by a family member.

Almost 760,000 Canadians said they had experienced unhealthy spousal conflict, abuse or violence in the past five years, while more than 766,000 older Canadians said they had experienced abuse or neglect in the past year.

Women, children, indigenous people, those with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community are at increased risk of family violence and its impacts.

Family violence is a term that encompasses a variety of unhealthy conflict, abuse and violence.

It can range in severity and take many forms including neglect as well as physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse. Any of these can result in negative and long-term health impacts.

Beyond the immediate physical and psychological impact of the abuse itself, family violence is associated with posttraumatic stress disorder as well as other mental health issues including increased likelihood of depression and anxiety.

It has also been associated with increased rates of cancer and a shortened lifespan. Researchers believe this could be related to the negative consequences of extreme stress on our mental and physical health.

Unfortunately, many people experiencing family violence do not seek help or report abuse to the authorities.

People fear for their safety or their loved ones. As a result, it is very difficult to gather accurate data. We still do not have a perfect way to address this significant issue in our society.

We do know that family violence has an enormous economic impact costs related to child abuse and neglect, health care, social services and personal costs in 1998 were estimated at almost $4 billion per year.

For spousal violence, health care costs in 2009 were estimated at $200 million per year while costs related to pain, suffering and loss of life were estimated to be $5.5 billion per year.

If we want to have a healthy society and to reduce a major burden to our over-taxed health care system, we need to prioritize healthy families.

This means addressing the social determinants of health and giving families the resources, tools and training necessary to prevent unhealthy behaviours and their tragic consequences.