Domestic abuse victims ‘three times more likely to suffer severe mental illness’

Domestic abuse victims in the UK are three times more likely to develop severe mental illnesses, new research suggests.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found a link between experiences of abuse and the onset of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in women who had not previously reported mental health problems.

The researchers said the findings show the “significant burden” of mental health problems linked to abuse in the UK.

The team, from the University of Birmingham, analysed the GP medical records of 92,735 women in the UK between 1995 and 2017.

This included 18,547 women whose experience of domestic abuse was recorded by their GP.

Women who were suffering from mental health problems before the reported incident – around 49.5% of this group – were excluded from the analysis.

Women experiencing domestic abuse are three times more likely to develop mental illness (Dominic Lipinski/ PA)
Women experiencing domestic abuse are three times more likely to develop mental illness (Dominic Lipinski/ PA)

Domestic abuse victims had double the risk of developing anxiety, compared to those who did not, the study found.

The risk of developing depression and serious mental health issues such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder increased threefold.

Lead author Dr Joht Singh Chandan, from the University of Birmingham, said: “In our study, we have been able to show the significant burden of mental illness attributable to domestic abuse within the UK.

“Considering how common domestic abuse is, it is important to understand how strongly the two are connected and consider whether there are possible opportunities to improve the lives of women affected by domestic abuse.

“We need a clear public health approach to prevent the violence and abuse of very vulnerable women.”

Dr Beena Rajkumar, from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “This study highlights the two-way relationship between abuse and mental illness, including serious mental illness, and carries a very important warning that we are missing opportunities to detect abuse that is happening all over the country today.

“Screening and recording of domestic abuse needs to be a clear priority for public services so that more effective interventions for this group of vulnerable women can urgently be put in place.”

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