Domestic Violence Causes Specific Female Mental Health Risks

Domestic violence injuries for female victims are not only physical. Brutality of this nature also causes specific mental health problems for women.

Female victims of domestic violence are subject to psychological scars that can result in psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, substance abuse, antisocial behavior, early pregnancy, and financial poverty.

On March 31, researchers at the University of Montreal, the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal, and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London published their findings of a longitudinal study they performed on 1,052 mothers in Newswise.

Professor at the School of Criminology at the University of Montreal, and first study author, Dr. Isabelle Ouellet-Morin offered an explanation about the results of their 10-year longitudinal twin study known as Environmental Risk.

According to Dr. Ouellet-Morin, “We studied the impact of domestic violence on the risk of mental health problems, particularly depression. We also studied the role of certain factors from the victims’ personal history, such as childhood abuse and economic poverty.”

Researchers initiated the longitudinal study by gathering a group of 1,052 women who had no prior history of depression. For 10 years, researchers interviewed the female subjects multiple times to determine whether the women suffered from domestic violence or if the females had any mental health problems.

Examiners found one-third of the female subjects reported they experienced domestic violence in the form of having an object thrown at them, or being hit or pushed by their spouse.

Researchers also determined that in addition to changes in mood, female victims of domestic violence suffered from a variety of mental health problems.

The study’s findings suggest women victims have three times the risk of developing psychotic symptoms similar to schizophrenia. In addition, the women double their risk of this mental disorder if they were an unfortunate casualty of child abuse.

Women who experience domestic violence also double the likelihood of them suffering from depression.

The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience researcher, Dr. Louise Arseneault told Newswise, “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.”

Dr. Arseneault added, “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.”

Domestic violence prevention not only requires protecting victims from physical abuse. The mental health and well-being of victims needs safeguards, as well.

[Photo via Raymond Kleboe/Hulton Archive/Getty Images]