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Partner violence more likely among people with mental illness

Men and women with a pre-existing mental disorder are two to five times more likely to have experienced emotional, physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner than those without a mental illness, according to new research from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London.

It is well established that domestic violence leads to mental health problems, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide attempts. There is emerging evidence that this connection goes both ways as people - particularly women - with pre-existing mental disorders are at increased risk of subsequent domestic violence. 

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most common form of domestic violence but little is known about the impact of different types of IPV - including emotional, physical or sexual violence - on men and women with pre-existing mental illness.

In this study, published last week in The British Journal of Psychiatry, researchers analysed data from a large nationally representative sample of more than 23,000 adults in the 2010/11 British Crime Survey (BCS). The survey of crime victimisation in England and Wales included interviews with all participants and a questionnaire on domestic violence. 

The researchers compared individuals with chronic mental illness, defined as any self-reported and long-standing mental health condition, against those without an illness.

People with a pre-existing mental illness were two to five times more likely to experience emotional, physical and sexual partner violence than those without. The rates were higher among women, of whom 20 per cent had experienced any form of partner violence compared to 6 per cent of men.

The study also found that both men and women with a pre-existing mental disorder were five times more likely to attempt suicide as a result of partner violence than those without, demonstrating the consequences of such abuse.

People with a mental illness were less likely to report their experiences to family and friends and more likely to report them to health professionals, underlining the important role health professionals play in detecting and addressing partner violence in these individuals.

Dr Hind Khalifeh, first author and Senior Clinical Researcher at the IoPPN, said: ‘This study adds to growing evidence that people with mental illness are vulnerable to being victims of violence and that they often rely on health professionals for help when they have these experiences.’

‘Awareness of this link among mental health professionals is crucial to ensure patients are protected from the consequences of such abuse, such as attempts to commit suicide.’

Notes to editors

Khalifeh, H et al (2015) ‘Recent intimate partner violence among people with chronic mental illness: findings from a national cross-sectional survey’ The British Journal of Psychiatry doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.114.144899  

For further media information please contact Jack Stonebridge, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London (+44) 020 7848 5377.

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