Research indicates that women who have experienced partner violence have a higher rate of mental illness. However, the link is more complex than it might seem, because pre-existing illnesses and other risk factors, like childhood abuse and early motherhood, can confound the analysis. It could be that women at risk for mental illness due to other factors, like child abuse, are also more at risk for experiencing partner violence.
Researchers at the University of Montreal conducted a study designed to analyze the specific link between depression and partner violence, separating it from other known risk factors. They found that, even after confounding factors were controlled for, women who had experienced partner violence were twice as likely to suffer from depression. The results were published recently in the journal Depression and Anxiety.
The participants in the study were drawn from a larger longitudinal study of English and Welsh mothers of twins. Only women with no history of depression were included, leaving a sample size of 978. The women were interviewed three times over seven years to assess their experience of partner violence as well as other risk factors for depression.
A third of the women interviewed had experienced partner violence, and they accounted for 51 percent of all reported cases of depression. Women who reported partner violence were also more likely to have experienced child abuse, poverty, substance abuse, and young motherhood. After the researchers controlled for these other risk factors, they found that the abused women were twice as likely to have depression compared to the group who had not experienced abuse. For those women who had experienced both child abuse and partner violence, the risk was four to seven times higher.
This as an intuitive conclusion, but it’s still important research. Having empirical evidence that controls for all risk factors is a vital step in gathering robust information about abuse. The evidence from studies such as these can be used to improve diagnosis, treatment, and public health policy. Specifically, the researchers suggest that mental health professionals should be aware of the connection between abuse and mental illness and use it to inform their treatment and support.