Making Strides in Assessing Survivors’ Health Needs

Direct Services Director Sandeep Kaur Bathala delivered a presentation in collaboration with Subadra Panchanadeswaran, a Sakhi volunteer and assistant professor at the Adelphi University School of Social Work, at the annual American Public Health Association Conference in San Diego, California, in late October.

In a PowerPoint presentation titled, “Health Care Needs of Abused Immigrant South Asian Women: Challenges for Social Work Practice and Policy,” the two pointed to Sakhi’s innovative pilot study conducted this year in order to better understand the health consequences of intimate partner violence (IPV).

Consisting of 11 participants involved in 2 focus group discussions and comprehensive follow-up interviews, the study captured key information that can be applied in social services work.

Sandeep pointed out that survivors in the study unanimously drew a connection between physical and mental health, and understood that abuse produced a negative impact on both.

One survivor in the study commented, “I am so down because of all my experiences all the time…I have high blood pressure now because of the stress. I cannot sleep because many times I am up crying…”

Among the physical and mental symptoms identified by survivors were: anxiety, headaches, asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, poor concentration, depression, and low self-esteem.

A key finding of the study was that a majority of the women said they did not seek out health care because of shame, fear, isolation, and language barriers, along with the sense that their health care providers were scarcely concerned about their well-being. Absence of health insurance was also a significant barrier, as was weak support from friends and family.

The implications for social work, the presenters observed, are, among other things, a serious need for cultural competency training among mental health care providers, greater health screening availability, and more avenues for survivors to share their stories and thus reduce their isolation.

The intersection between intimate partner violence (IPV) and both physical and mental health outcomes has been established by various research studies, which have repeatedly found links between IPV and increased rates of chronic physical pain, depression, low self-esteem, and sexually-transmitted diseases.

Subadra noted that the session produced meaningful questions and dialogue: “Despite the session being the last one in the day and our presentation being the very last, we had about 10 participants in the room. We were inundated with a volley of questions at the end of our presentation. The audience found the study very interesting and the data very compelling. Many said that mental health issues seem really a top priority for the women in our study. One participant also said that the findings may be indicative of the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder in this population which may need to be addressed…We also highlighted our advocacy efforts with health care providers which focused on provision of culturally competent services to survivors.”

Within the direct services work that she spearheads, Sandeep noted the range and scope of our efforts in this critical arena, which include emotional support, monthly support group sessions, assistance in accessing legal and health services at a lower cost, court accompaniments, and financial and computer literacy workshops.

In addition, she pointed to Sakhi’s Women’s Health Initiative, which comprises workshops on preventative health, South Asian health provider referrals, and one-on-one counseling via use of cognitive behavioral techniques.

In sharing the pilot study results and delineating the scope of our work, Sakhi hopes to achieve stronger partnerships and heightened awareness among health providers in order to better serve our constituency.