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  • Online publication date: February 2017

2 - Domestic violence and mental health


Domestic violence has been shown to be associated with a range of mental health problems, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidal ideation, substance misuse, functional symptoms, and the exacerbation of psychotic symptoms (Golding, 1999; Campbell, 2002; Neria et al, 2005; Trevillion et al, 2012). In this chapter we review literature on the prevalence of domestic violence among men and women with mental disorders and present evidence that suggests a bi-directional causal relationship between domestic violence and mental disorders. We focus largely on intimate partner violence among women, but where data are available we present findings on domestic violence perpetrated by other family members and violence among men.

The prevalence of domestic violence in people with mental disorders

Community-based and non-psychiatric healthcare surveys

A recent review of the international literature found that there is a high prevalence of intimate partner violence among men and women across all diagnostic categories of mental disorder (Trevillion et al, 2012). The median prevalence of lifetime intimate partner violence among women was reported as 45.8% among those with depressive disorders, 27.6% among those with anxiety disorders and 61% among those with PTSD. In relation to men, two high-quality studies reported a prevalence of lifetime intimate partner violence among men with depressive disorders (5.3% and 31.3%) and men with anxiety disorders (7.4% and 27%). One high-quality study also reported a prevalence of 7.3% for lifetime intimate partner violence among men with PTSD. The review found that there is a higher likelihood of experiencing adult lifetime partner violence among women with depressive disorders (odds ratio (OR)=2.77), anxiety disorders (OR=4.08) and PTSD (OR=7.34), compared with women without mental disorders. Although it was not possible to calculate pooled odds for other mental disorders and for domestic violence among men, the reviewers found that individual studies reported increased odds of domestic violence for men and women across all diagnostic categories, including psychosis, with a higher prevalence reported for women.

Smaller studies, conducted in healthcare settings or with community samples, also contribute to knowledge in this area. For example, a study of 126 consecutive admissions to a French emergency care service examined domestic violence by an intimate partner or family member and reported a lifetime prevalence of 42.9% among men and women with depression (Lejoyeux et al, 2002).