Bruises on the Outside – and the Inside

Domestic violence and mental illness are linked in large analysis of studies

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Domestic abuse has been linked to all kinds of other health problems, including mental illness. The question is how strong the link is between victimization and mental health.

A recent study looked at the research available related to specific mental disorders and their link to victims of domestic violence.

The researchers found that those with depression, anxiety or PTSD were considerably more likely to be victims of abuse by a partner.

However, it was not clear whether domestic violence might have caused the mental health problems or whether the mental health problems might have contributed to the risk of being abused.

Or there could have been another underlying cause related to both being victimized and having mental illness.

"Get help if you're being abused."

The study, led by Kylee Trevillion, a PhD student in the Section of Women's Mental Health at King's College in London, looked at possible connections between mental health and being a victim of domestic violence.

The researchers searched 18 different databases of studies as well as the references of articles and the index sections of journals to find studies relating to both mental disorders and domestic violence.

They analyzed only the 41 studies that included participants who were at least 16 years old and that used established psychological assessments to diagnose psychiatric disorders.

They found that women with depressive disorders were a little more than two and a half times more likely to experience domestic violence at the hands of their romantic partner at some point in their lives than if they had no mental illness.

Women with anxiety disorders were four times more likely to be victims of domestic abuse by their partners, and women with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were over seven times more likely to be abused by their partners.

The researchers looked for information about the risks associated with other mental disorders, the risk of being abused by other family members besides a partner and the risk among men for abuse.

The evidence available showed higher risks for other mental illnesses, including obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

They also found these associations with mental illness for victimized men. However, the studies did not provide enough data to investigate these areas thoroughly.

"There is a high prevalence and increased likelihood of being a victim of domestic violence in men and women across all diagnostic categories, compared to people without disorders," the authors wrote.

The studies were mostly short-term studies. Without many long-term studies, the researchers could not establish whether domestic violence might cause the mental illness or whether having a mental illness predisposes someone to be abused.

Senior author Louise Howard, PhD, from the King's College Institute of Psychiatry, said it's possible it could be a little of both.

"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," Dr. Howard said in a release about the study.

The study was published December 26 in the journal PLOS ONE. The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research and the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.

The only two disclosures noted were two authors' membership of the WHO Guideline Development Group on Policy and Practice Guidelines for responding to Violence Against Women and the NICE/SCIE Guideline Development Group on Preventing and Reducing Domestic Violence.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 9, 2013
Last Updated:
January 11, 2013