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Domestic violence leaves physical and psychological scars

In addition to their physical injuries, women who are victims of domestic violence are also at a greater risk of depression and psychotic symptoms, according to a study published in Depression and Anxiety by researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal (IUSMM) and Université de Montréal.

More than 1,000 mothers participated in the Environmental Risk (E-Risk) Longitudinal Twin Study over 10 years. Only women with no previous history of depression were considered for the study. Over this decade, the researchers conducted multiple interviews to determine whether the women had suffered violence from their spouses and whether they suffered from mental health disorders.

‘We studied the impact of domestic violence on the risk of mental health issues, particularly depression’, said Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, a researcher at the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal and professor at the School of Criminology at Université de Montréal. She added: ’We also studied the role of certain factors from the victims' personal history, such as childhood abuse and economic poverty.’

More than one third of the women reported suffering violence from their spouses (e.g., being pushed or hit with an object). These women had a more extensive history of childhood abuse, abuse of illicit substances, economic poverty, early pregnancy and an antisocial personality. They were twice as likely to suffer from depression, even when controlling for the impact of childhood abuse. 

Domestic violence had an impact not just on mood but on other mental health aspects as well. These women had a three times higher risk of developing schizophrenia-like psychotic symptoms. This risk doubled for women who were also victims of childhood abuse.

‘Domestic violence is unacceptable because of the injuries it causes. We have shown that these injuries are not only physical. The impact of domestic violence can also be psychological by increasing the risk of depression and psychotic symptoms,’ added Louise Arseneault, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London. ‘Health professionals need to be very aware of the possibility that women who experience mental health problems may also be the victims of domestic violence and vice versa. Given the prevalence of depression in these victims, we need to prevent these situations and take action. These acts of violence do more than leave physical damage; they leave psychological scars as well,’ concluded Dr Arseneault. 

Notes to editors

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

Paper reference: ‘Intimate partner violence and new-onset depression: a longitudinal study of women’s childhood and adult histories of abuse’ Ouellet-Morin, Fisher, York-Smith, Fincham-Campbell, Moffitt, Arseneault. Depression and Anxiety; Published Online: Feb 17, 2015 DOI: 10.1002/da.22347.