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The harms of help: exploring women's experiences with anti-violence, addictions and mental health services within British Columbia

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Despite the intention of the anti-violence, addictions and mental health sectors to enhance women's health and safety, research has revealed that these services can unintentionally cause harm. This qualitative study used focus groups to explore, understand and describe the harms of British Columbia's anti-violence, addictions and mental health services from the unique and varied perspectives of women who have experiences of abuse, substance use and mental health issues. Five themes of service harms emerged. Exclusion from services undermined women's ability to escape high-risk situations; contact with services triggered women's substance use; mistreatment from service providers created a barrier to help-seeking; inattention to women's experiences of abuse made services unreflective of women's needs; and child apprehension directly contributed to mother's use of substances. To eliminate service harms, recommendations are provided for the provision of women-centred care; trauma-informed and trauma-specific services; and the integration of anti-violence, addictions and mental health services.
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