Domestic Violence's Aftershocks: Women's Risk For Depression Doubles, Schizophrenia Triples

Domestic Violence Mental Disorders
Mental disorders can develop after a woman experiences domestic violence or child abuse. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

A beaten woman’s bruises are often much uglier and damaging on her emotions than the physical marks they leave on her skin. A team of research from King’s College London, the Institute universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal, and the University of Montreal set out to find if victims of domestic violence developed mental disorders. The study, which was published in the journal of Depression and Anxiety, traced women for over a decade and found the ripple effect of abuse left scars deeper than the physical marks their spouses left on them.

"We studied the impact of domestic violence on the risk of mental health problems, particularly depression," the study’s coauthor Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, a researcher from the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal, said in a press release. "We also studied the role of certain factors from the victims' personal history, such as childhood abuse and economic poverty," explained Ms. Ouellet-Morin, who is also a professor at the School of Criminology at the University of Montreal.

For over 10 years, researchers analyzed the lives of 1,052 mothers who had no past history of depression. Throughout the study, participants were interviewed multiple times to assess whether they suffered through violence from their spouses and if they had any mental disorders. It turns out more than one-third of the women suffered violence from their spouses from being either pushed or hit with an object. Those same women were at a three times higher risk for developing symptoms similar to psychotic schizophrenia. If they reported a history of child abuse, the risks automatically doubled and they were also twice as likely to suffer from depression.

Women are the overwhelming majority of domestic violence cases — 85 percent of victims are women, while 15 percent are men. More than 38 million women have experienced physical violence from their partner at some point in their lifetime, and every day three women are murdered by their current or previous partner, according to Center for American Progress. It is such a frequent occurrence that every single minute 20 people are victims of partner violence. It lasts much longer than the bruises, cuts, scrapes, and aches. The residual effects of being hurt by a partner cuts deeper into the psychological safe haven of a victim’s brain and oftentimes leaves mental and emotional scars for life.

"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," the study’s coauthor Louise Arseneault, a researcher from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London, said in a press release. "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. 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.”

Source: Ouellet-Morin I, Arseneault L, Fisher HL, York-Smith M, Fincham-Campbell S, and Moffitt TE. Intimate Partner Violence and New-Onset Depression: A Longitudinal Study of Women’s Childhood and Adult Histories of Abuse. Depression of Anxiety. 2015.

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