Mental illness linked to domestic violence

KING’S COLLEGE LONDON (UK) — People diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than others to be victims of domestic violence, new research shows.

Previous studies into the link between domestic violence and mental health problems have mainly focused on depression, but this is the first study to look at a wide range of mental health problems in both men and women.

In this study, published today in PLoS One, researchers at King’s College London and the University of Bristol reviewed data from 41 studies worldwide.


“In this study, we found that both men and women with mental health problems are at an increased risk of domestic violence,” says Louise Howard, Head of the Section of Women’s Mental Health at King’s Institute of Psychiatry. “The evidence suggests that there are two things happening: domestic violence can often lead to victims developing mental health problems, and people with mental health problems are more likely to experience domestic violence.”

Compared to women without mental health problems, women with depressive disorders were around 2 and a ½ times more likely to have experienced domestic violence over their adult lifetime (prevalence estimate 45.8 percent); women with anxiety disorders were over 3 and a ½ times more likely (prevalence estimate 27.6 percent); and women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were around 7 times more likely (prevalence estimate 61 percent).

Women with other disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, common mental health problems, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder were also at an increased risk of domestic violence compared to women without mental health problems.

Men with all types of mental disorders were also at an increased risk of domestic violence. However, prevalence estimates for men were lower than those for women, indicating that it is less common for men to be victims of repeated severe domestic violence.

Internationally, the lifetime prevalence of physical and/or sexual partner violence among women ranges from 15-71 percent. In the UK, the 2010/11 British Crime Survey reported that 27 percent of women and 17 percent of men had experienced partner abuse during their lifetime, with women experiencing more repeated and severe violence than men.

In March 2013, the UK Home Office will amend its definition of domestic violence to include 16 and 17 year olds, and will be defined as  “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behavior, violence, or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or emotional abuse.”

“Mental health professionals need to be aware of the link between domestic violence and mental health problems, and ensure that their patients are safe from domestic violence and are treated for the mental health impact of such abuse,” Howard says.

The study is part of PROVIDE, a 5-year research program on domestic violence funded by the National Institute of Health Research .

Source: King’s College London