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mHealth App to Help Mothers, Daughters in Domestic Abuse Recovery

Researchers at Yale University will be using an mHealth app with role-playing tools to help mothers and daughters recovering from intimate partner violence.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Researchers at Yale University are studying whether an mHealth app can help mothers and daughters avoid health issues and risky behaviors associated with witnessing domestic abuse in the home.

Dr. Trace S. Kershaw, MA, PhD, a professor of social and behavioral sciences in the Women’s Health Research department, and Doctoral student Tiara Willie are designing a digital health platform that enables users to play roles in an interactive graphic novella, where they make behavioral choices that can lead to positive or negative outcomes.

More than 40 percent of mothers in the US experience some form of intimate partner violence, according to the university, with 15 million children and adolescents affected by what they witness.

Those negative effects, researchers say, can include poor physical and mental health and a tendency to engage in high-risk actions like substance abuse. They can also trap both mothers and their children in a cycle of continuing vulnerability to partner violence.

“Female adolescents affected by violence in their homes are particularly vulnerable to unwittingly accepting a negative cycle that can have widespread influence on the health and well-being of women across generations,” Kershaw said in a press release issued by Yale. “We are focusing on mothers and daughters because it is essential to end this cycle.” 

Kershaw said the mobile health platform gives them a chance to work with mothers and daughters together, and to reach a larger audience, especially in underserved communities. He estimates that 85 percent of the target audience of low-income adolescents and parents have access to a smartphone.

“By working with mothers and daughters at the same time, we hope to strengthen their relationship and their ability to respond to the negative effects of violence,” he added. “With new skills and confidence, both mothers and daughters will hopefully better avoid violence in future relationships.”

The discrete nature of an mHealth program delivered to a consumer’s personal device is driving the mobile health platform’s popularity in public and population health programs. They include outreach programs to help those with addiction, mental health and sexual identity concerns.

In addition, health systems are using telemedicine platforms to help ED nurses and doctors identify and treat victims of sexual and domestic assault, and to link rural providers and victims in real-time with specialist resources.

To create their app, Kershaw and Willie are relying on an advisory board that includes patients, domestic violence specialists, social workers and experts in creative writing and graphic novellas. They’ll then test the app on five mother-daughter pairs before expanding the program to 15 more teams over eight weeks. 

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