Female domestic violence victims at a higher risk for mental health issues

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Female domestic violence victims at a higher risk for mental health issues
Female domestic violence victims at a higher risk for mental health issues

Women who are victims of domestic violence are at a greater risk for mental health disorders such as psychosis and depression as well as physical injuries, say researchers at the Université de Montréal at the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London in England.

“We studied the impact of domestic violence on the risk of mental health problems, particularly depression,” said Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, first study author and a researcher at the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal. “We also studied the role of certain factors from the victims’ personal history, such as childhood abuse and economic poverty,” said Ms. Ouellet-Morin, a professor at the School of Criminology at the Université de Montréal.

Researchers conducted multiple interviews with 1,052 mothers who participated in the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study over a ten year period. The only participants who were considered for this study did not have a history of depression. The surveys asked participants if they had experienced violence from their spouses and if they had mental health disorders.

“Domestic violence is unacceptable because of the injuries it causes. We have shown that these injuries are not only physical: they can also be psychological, as they increase the risk of depression and psychotic symptoms,” said Louise Arseneault, a researcher at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.

Study findings:

More than one third of the women reported experiencing violence from their spouses such as being hit with an object or being pushed
Female victims of domestic abuse were twice as likely to become depressed, even when the study controlled for the impact of childhood abuse
Domestic violence impacted the development of other mental health problems, such as having a three times higher risk of developing psychosis symptoms and double that risk if the women were also victims of childhood abuse

“Health professionals need to be very aware of the possibility that women who experience mental health problems may also be the victims of domestic violence and vice versa,” said Arseneault. “Given the prevalence of depression in these victims, we need to prevent these situations and take action. These acts of violence do more than leave physical damage; they leave psychological scars as well.”

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