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Gender-based violence associated with lifetime risk of mental illness and disability, research shows

Australian women who report gender-based violence display higher lifetime rates of mental illness, disability and substance abuse; strong association between gender violence and attempted suicide

University of New South Wales

Women who experience gender-based violence such as rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and stalking have a higher lifetime prevalence of mental health disorders, dysfunction and disability, new Australian research shows.

The survey of 4,451 women aged 16 to 85 used international instruments developed by the World Health Organisation. Around 15 percent of Australian women report sexual assault, while eight percent report being raped. About eight percent report physical intimate partner violence and 10 percent stalking.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics' National Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey (2007) were analysed by researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study is the most comprehensive ever undertaken of gender-based violence in a nationally representative sample of women.

It shows the four most common types of gender-based violence are strongly associated with a wide range of problems for women including more severe current mental disorder, higher rates of three or more lifetime mental disorders, physical disability, mental disability, impaired quality of life, and overall disability.

"It was the strength of these associations that was most shocking," said study leader, Dr Susan Rees, from UNSW's School of Psychiatry. "There is an overwhelming link between gender violence and key indicators of women's mental health, wellbeing and risk of suicide attempts."

"For women exposed to two types of gender-based violence the lifetime rate of mental disorder was 69 percent and for three or more types of gender-based violence, it was 89.4 percent. This compares with a rate of 28 percent for women who have not experienced violence. The link with gender-based violence was particularly strong for posttraumatic stress disorder."

"This research highlights the 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 such violence," Dr Rees said.


The work was supported by a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

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