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This article is from the WebMD News Archive

Domestic violence linked to mental health problems

BMJ Group News

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Women who have mental health problems such as depression and anxiety are more likely to experience domestic violence during their lifetimes. It is unclear whether the violence causes the mental health problems or whether people with mental illness are more likely to be abused.

What do we know already?

Domestic violence, meaning violence from one partner in a relationship to another, is fairly common. Estimates of the proportion of women affected by domestic violence vary widely around the world, ranging from 15 in 100 to 70 in 100 women. There are no comparable global estimates of domestic violence against men.

People who have experienced domestic violence are likely to go on to have mental health problems, which may include post-traumatic stress disorder ( PTSD), as a reaction to the abuse they have suffered. We know that people who have been victims of domestic violence tend to use medical services more than other people. However, there is little good-quality information about just how common domestic violence is among people who have mental health disorders. This study looked at previous research that has been done in this area, combining the results from different studies to estimate overall figures.

What does the new study say?

In most of the studies, people who had mental health problems were more likely to have experienced domestic violence. However, there were too few studies looking at men to come up with overall figures. Among women with mental health problems:

  • On average, almost half of women with depression (46 in every 100) had experienced domestic violence in their adult lives
  • More than a quarter of women with anxiety disorder (28 in every 100) had experienced domestic violence
  • Well over half of women with post-traumatic stress disorder (61 in every 100) had experienced domestic violence

Compared to women without mental health problems, women with depression, anxiety disorder, or PTSD were almost three times, four times, or seven times more likely to have experienced domestic violence, respectively.

How reliable is the research?

This is a good-quality research study that looked at most of the published research on this topic. Pooling the results of different studies can be a good way of finding reliable answers to questions. However, there are a couple of things to think about.

Firstly, the original studies were published all over the world. Domestic violence varies a lot between countries as to how common it is, how likely people are to admit that it happens, and how acceptable it is in society. So it’s hard to know how relevant the results are to the UK in particular. Linked to this, the estimates of domestic violence varied a lot between studies. The estimate of 46 in 100 women with depression having experienced domestic violence came from combining the results of studies ranging from 15 in 100 women to almost 90 in 100 women.

In addition, because the studies mostly looked at a ‘snapshot’ of people’s lives, it’s not possible to tell whether the domestic violence occurred before or after the mental health problems started. So we can’t say whether the violence caused the women to develop mental health problems, or whether women with mental health problems are more vulnerable to domestic violence. The researchers say they believe both are likely to be true.

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