Depression Risks Soar in Female Victims of Both Domestic Violence, Child Abuse

Posted on April 7th, 2015
Posted in Mental Health

Separate from any considerations related to a personal history of child maltreatment, intimate partner violence significantly increases women’s chances of developing depression, according to new findings from a team of Canadian, British and American researchers.

Doctors, researchers and public health officials know that women exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV), also known as domestic violence, have increased chances of experiencing diagnosable symptoms of depression. However, a personal history of child maltreatment also increases a woman’s overall depression risks. In a study published in February 2015 in the journal Depression and Anxiety, researchers from three Canadian institutions, one British institution and one American institution sought to separate women’s IPV-related depression risks from their child maltreatment-related depression risks.

Women and Intimate Partner Violence

The term intimate partner violence applies to a range of physically, sexually and emotionally/psychologically harmful behaviors that appear in the context of a sexual or non-sexual relationship between spouses or other partners. Examples of these behaviors include punching, kicking or choking (physical IPV); sexual assault or sexual acts committed against an incapacitated person (sexual IPV); and coercive or controlling actions that may or may not imply a threat of physical or sexual violence (emotional/psychological IPV). Threatening or harassing someone through stalking is also a recognized form of intimate partner violence.

Women bear the brunt of intimate partner violence in the U.S. and other countries across the globe. Over a third of American women have experienced stalking or some form of physical or sexual IPV over the course of their lives, compared to over a quarter of all American men. In addition, almost 50 percent of American women have a personal history of emotional/psychological IPV exposure. Women with especially high risks for intimate partner violence exposure include individuals with physical disabilities, individuals with mental health problems, socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals, younger individuals, poorly educated individuals and individuals with alcohol or drug problems.

Girls and Child Maltreatment

Child maltreatment is a modern, more comprehensive replacement term for child abuse. In addition to active forms of physical and sexual abuse and exploitation, the term encompasses child neglect, which is characterized by a failure to fulfill baseline obligations to protect a child’s physical, educational, emotional or financial/material well-being. Figures reported in early 2015 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families indicate that child neglect occurs far more often than physical abuse or sexual abuse. Compared to boys, girls have an unusually high rate of exposure to one form of child maltreatment: sexual abuse. Any given child may have a history of exposure to multiple forms of maltreatment.

IPV’s Unique Contribution to Depression Risks?

In the study published in Depression and Anxiety, researchers from Duke University, the United Kingdom’s King’s College London and Canada’s University of Montreal, Research Group on Child Maladjustment and Research Center of the Montreal Mental Health University Institute used data from a long-term project called the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study to separate the mental health risks of women’s exposure to intimate partner violence from the mental health risks associated with women’s history of exposure to child maltreatment. A total of 978 women from this larger project took part in the current study. The researchers specifically sought to isolate the underlying causes for new cases of depression in women. They also wanted to isolate the underlying causes of schizophrenia-related mental health conditions known as psychosis spectrum disorders. In addition to child maltreatment, the researchers looked at other potential intervening factors that included the mental illness known as antisocial personality disorder, a pattern of abusive substance intake and disadvantaged socioeconomic standing.

The researchers found that roughly 40 percent of the women enrolled in the study had a history of IPV exposure in the previous decade of their lives. Collectively, these women accounted for slightly more than half (51 percent) of all new cases of depression among the participants. The researchers concluded that, even when a personal history of child maltreatment and all other intervening factors are taken into account and excluded from consideration, women exposed to intimate partner violence develop new cases of depression roughly 100 percent more often than women not exposed to IPV. The researchers also concluded that the combination of IPV exposure and a history of child maltreatment boosts women’s depression risks by 300 percent to 600 percent.

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