According to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women are much more likely to develop a mental disorder at some point in their lives if they have been the victim of rape, sexual assault, stalking, or intimate-partner violence.
While this does not come as a surprise to most, the interesting aspect of the study is that it shows just how connected these two occurences are. It also emphasizes how important it is for doctors and health care workers to ask women about prior violent incidents, even if they are from years ago.
Australian researchers studied women with at least one episode of abuse and found that 57% of them had also suffered from depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, or anxiety (including panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder), compared to just 28% of the women who had not experienced gender-based violence.
Among women who had been exposed to at least three different types of violence, the rate of mental disorders or substance abuse rose to 89%, according to Amanda MacMillan of Health.com.
"The extent and strength of the association we found was surprising and very concerning," says lead author Susan Rees, Ph.D., a senior research fellow in psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney.
Of course, there could be a chance that the mental health problems in the study were not triggered by the violence, but rather the women with preexisting mental health issues were more likely to experience violence. Socioeconomic status and a family history of psychiatric problems were controled for in the study, though.
Rees did say that there is "ample evidence" that traumatic events, including and especially those such as domestic abuse, can trigger mental problems.
"It underscores the impact on society as more than just the immediate consequences, more than just treating women in an emergency department for a violent injury," said Andrea Gielen, Sc.D., director for the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins University.