“You Always End up Feeling Like You’re Some Hypochondriac”: Intimate Partner Violence Survivors’ Experiences Addressing Depression and Pain

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Journal of General Internal Medicine

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Objective: Little is known regarding how providers should use information about intimate partner violence (IPV) to care for depressed patients. Our objective was to explore what depressed IPV survivors believe about the relationship between abuse, mental health, and physical symptoms and to elicit their recommendations for addressing depression.

Design: Focus group study.

Patients/Participants: Adult, English-speaking, female, Internal Medicine clinic patients with depressive symptoms and a history of IPV.

Interventions: Thematic analysis using an inductive approach (consistent with grounded theory), at a semantic level, with an essentialist paradigm.

Measurements and Main Results: Twenty three women participated in 5 focus groups. Although selected because of their depression, participants often felt their greatest concerns were physical. They acknowledged that their abuse history, depression, and physical complaints compound each other. They appreciated the need for health care workers to know about their depression and IPV history to get a “full picture” of their health, but they were often hesitant to discuss such issues with providers because of their fear that such information would make providers think their symptoms were “all in their head” or would encourage providers to discount their pain. Participants discussed difficulties related to trust and control in relationships with providers and gave recommendations as to how providers can earn their trust.

Conclusions: Understanding a patient’s IPV history may allow providers to develop a better therapeutic relationship. To treat depression adequately, it is important for providers to reassure patients that they believe their physical symptoms; to communicate respect for patients’ intelligence, experience, and complexity; and to share control.


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