Qualitative study to explore the health and well-being impacts on adults providing informal support to female domestic violence survivors

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Domestic violence (DV) is hazardous to survivors’ health, both from injuries sustained, and from resultant chronic physical and mental health problems. Support from friends and relatives is significant in the lives of DV survivors; research shows associations between positive support and the health, wellbeing and safety of survivors. Little is known about how people close to survivors are impacted. The aim of this study was exploratory, with the following research question: what are the health and wellbeing impacts on adults who provide informal support to female DV survivors? 
A qualitative study using semi-structured interviews conducted face-to-face, by telephone or using Skype. A thematic analysis of the narratives was carried out.
Community based, across the UK
People were eligible to take part if they had had a close relationship (either as friend, colleague or family member) with a woman who had experienced domestic violence, and were aged 16 or over during the time they knew the survivor. Participants were recruited via posters in community venues, social media, and radio advertisement. Twenty-three participants were recruited and interviewed; the majority were female, most were white, and ages ranged from mid-twenties to eighty. 
Generated themes included: negative impacts on psychological and emotional wellbeing of informal supporters, and related physical health impacts. Some psychological impacts were over a limited period, others were chronic, and had the potential to be severe and enduring. The impacts described, suggested that those providing informal support to survivors may be experiencing secondary traumatic stress as they journey alongside the survivor. 
Friends and relatives of DV survivors experience substantial impact on their own health and wellbeing. There are no direct services to support this group. These findings have practical and policy implications so that the needs of informal supporters are legitimised and met.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere014511
Number of pages16
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number3
Early online date24 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • Domestic violence
  • Informal supporters
  • Qualitative
  • Secondary traumatic stress

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