Repeat violence can boost women’s mental health risk to almost 90%

Women who have experienced several forms of gender-based violence, such as sexual assault or stalking, are more likely to develop mental health problems, a study found. Flickr/RenaudPhoto

Women who are raped, sexually assaulted, bashed by a partner or stalked are much more likely to develop mental health problems than women who do not experience gender-based violence, a study has found.

Researchers at the University of NSW examined data from the 2007 ABS National Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey for 4,451 women aged 16 to 85.

They found that for women exposed to three or more forms of gender-based violence (such as rape, sexual assault, stalking or being bashed by a partner), the lifetime rate of mental disorder was 89.4%. For women who have not experienced violence, the rate is 28%.

“It was the strength of these associations that was most shocking,” said study leader, Dr Susan Rees, from UNSW’s School of Psychiatry, who added that the link with post-traumatic stress disorder was particularly strong.

“There is an overwhelming link between gender violence and key indicators of women’s mental health, wellbeing and risk of suicide attempts.”

The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that for women exposed to two types of gender-based violence, the lifetime rate of mental disorder was 69%.

As many as 27.4% of the women surveyed reported experiencing at least one of the types of gender-based violence assessed in the study.

Up to 14.7% of women reported experiencing sexual assault, 10% had been stalked, 8.1% had been raped and 7.8% been bashed by a partner.

Poor physical health and higher levels of disability were also associated with gender-based violence, the study found.

“There is a need to ensure that expert mental health care is a central component of gender-based violence programs. Similarly, psychiatric services need to be better equipped to assist women with mental health disorders who have experienced GBV,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

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