Emily Fanjoy, TCWRC Health Programs Coordinator

Health care professionals and social service providers understand that a person’s overall health is impacted more by what happens outside of the doctor’s office than by what happens during an annual visit. As YOW, a public health-focused initiative, convenes community partnerships and collaborators to formulate a plan to address the high rates of diabetes in Tillamook County, we are looking at root causes for type II diabetes and barriers to medical care for people who are pre-diabetic. That means looking across a broad spectrum of potential causes. A person’s relationships, past and present, and the home they grew up in could be a contributing factor to developing diabetes and to successfully managing it.

Healthy relationships promote overall health and well-being, while unhealthy and abusive relationships contribute to poor health in a variety of ways. Unhealthy relationships can negatively impact a person’s immediate and long-term health. Unhealthy relationships where one person in the relationship uses a variety of methods to gain and maintain power and control over the other person are, unfortunately, common. According to surveys from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced intimate partner violence. It occurs across every demographic line of socioeconomic status, education level, sexual orientation, race, and religion. It can happen to anyone. Tactics include: jealousy, preventing their partner from spending time with friends and family; controlling how their partner spends money; and shaming or humiliating their partner in public or in private.

Many people assume that abusive relationships are defined by the presence of physical violence, but research shows that emotional and psychological abuse are used long before any physical violence occurs. Over time the control tactics cause chronic, toxic stress for the person subjected to them. In terms of health impacts, psychological abuse is as important an indicator for health outcomes as physical abuse. This means a person can experience negative health consequences as a result of an unhealthy relationship without ever being physically hurt by their partner.

Controlling, abusive behavior harms the partner who is subjected to it, and it can also harm the health and wellbeing of children growing up in homes where it’s the norm. The Adverse Childhood Experience Study, or ACEs, demonstrated the connection between growing up with violence in the home and experiencing long term chronic health conditions, including diabetes. Our bodies are wired to respond to real or perceived threats by releasing the hormone cortisol to fuel the “fight, flight, or freeze” response in dangerous situations. This is helpful for self protection in the short term but, if the body is constantly producing stress hormones, the effect can be damaging over time. Cortisol directly impacts blood sugar levels and heart rate, and is linked to the development of gastrointestinal conditions, heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses.

As with childhood ACEs, even after an unhealthy relationship has ended, the experience of abuse can negatively impact health. Successfully managing mental or physical health conditions while in an unhealthy relationship can be challenging. If you or someone you know are concerned that your relationship is affecting your health, there is hope for healing. At TCWRC, we believe everyone deserves a healthy, supportive relationship.

TCWRC serves people of all genders with free, confidential advocacy services, community resource referrals, support groups, community and professional education and outreach, and counseling services. Our advocates and 24/7 helpline are available to anyone who wonders about their relationship and about what resources are available to them. We’re located at 1902 2nd St, Tillamook, OR 97141; 503-842-9486 or 1-800-992-1679. You are not alone.

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