Domestic Violence Increases Women’s Psychosis Risk Up to 600 Percent
Large numbers of American women will be exposed to some form of intimate partner violence (IPV, also known as domestic violence) at least once over the course of their lives. In a study published in May 2015 in the journal Depression and Anxiety, researchers from three Canadian institutions, one British institution and one American institution explored the long-term mental health implications of women’s IPV exposure. These researchers also sought to identify those women most likely to develop mental health problems after experiencing intimate partner violence.
Women and IPV
Intimate partner violence is the accepted term for any physically, sexually or emotionally/psychologically violent acts that occur in the context of a current or past relationship with a person of any gender or sexual orientation. In the U.S. and many other countries, women have a substantially higher rate of IPV exposure than men. Current figures indicate that more than 33 percent of all U.S. women will experience physical or sexual forms of IPV or experience the implicitly threatening behavior known as stalking. In addition, almost 50 percent of all U.S. women will experience an emotional/psychological form of intimate partner violence such as isolation, purposeful humiliation or denial of access to financial resources or other essential material needs.
Women and teenage girls typically have higher chances of being targeted for intimate partner violence when they have a history of childhood abuse, lack adequate social support networks, don’t graduate from high school, have problems with drug or alcohol abuse/addiction, have pre-existing symptoms of depression, don’t make a livable wage and/or don’t have a job. Known consequences of IPV victimization include high anxiety levels, a “down” or depressed mental state, diagnosable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), diagnosable depressive illness, lack of trust in others, increased chances of using drugs/alcohol or engaging in other high-risk behaviors and increased chances of considering, actively planning or attempting suicide.
Childhood abuse is also known as child maltreatment. Doctors, researchers and public health officials use these terms to denote any adult behavior that results in physical, sexual or emotional/psychological injury to a child, as well as any adult behavior that deprives a child of access to needed educational, medical, emotional or physical resources. The federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) estimates that close to 700,000 girls and boys in the U.S. are exposed to some form of abuse, maltreatment or neglect over the course of a year. The ACF also estimates that roughly 1,500 girls and boys will die from acts of abuse, maltreatment or neglect.
Women, IPV and Mental Health
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 Center of the Montreal Health University Institute and Research Group on Child Maladjustment used data gathered from 978 women to explore the long-term impact of intimate partner violence on women’s mental health outcomes. All of the women were mothers enrolled in a project called the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study. None of the women had a pre-existing depression history. During three interviews conducted over the course of a decade, the researchers looked at each participant’s level of IPV exposure and mental health status.
Fully 40 percent of the study participants admitted being victimized by intimate partner violence during the 10-year period under consideration. Compared to the participants unaffected by IPV, these women had a higher level of exposure to a number of serious mental and physical issues, including childhood maltreatment, antisocial personality disorder and potentially diagnosable substance problems.
The IPV-exposed women without a history of child maltreatment had a roughly 200 percent higher chance of developing psychosis symptoms typically associated with the presence of schizophrenia or a schizophrenia-related illness. Among those women with a history of IPV exposure and child maltreatment, the risks for psychosis increased by 300 percent to 600 percent. When childhood maltreatment and all other risk factors were accounted for, the women exposed to IPV had a roughly 100 percent higher chance of developing symptoms of depression. The overlap of IPV and child maltreatment produced a spike in depression rates that largely mirrored the increase in psychosis rates.