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Sep 08, 2014 05:52 AM EDT

Mentally Ill Patients More Likely To Be Victims of Sexual and Domestic Violence, Study

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Women suffering from severe mental illness are five times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than normal individuals, according to a University of College London study. These women are also two to three times more likely to suffer from domestic violence.

For the study, the researchers surveyed 303 psychiatric patients who were involved with community services for mroe than a year. About 60 percent of them were diagnosed with schizophrenia. They were interviewed using the British Crime Survey questionnaire for domestic and sexual violence. The responses were compared to those from 22,606 respondents in the 2011/12 national crime survey.

The researchers found that 40 percent of the women with severe mental illness experienced rape or attempted rape in adulthood. Among these women, 53 of them attempted suicide as a consequence. In the general population, the figures were 7 and 3 percent respectively.

In men, 12 percent with severe mental illness faced serious sexual assaults when compared to 0.5 percent of the general population.

"The number of rape victims among women with severe mental illness is staggering," said lead author Dr Hind Khalifeh of UCL's Division of Psychiatry, in a statement. "At the time of the survey, 10% had experienced sexual assault in the past year, showing that the problems continue throughout adulthood. Considering the high rate of suicide attempts among rape victims in this group, clinicians assessing people after a suicide attempt should consider asking them if they have been sexually assaulted. Currently this is not done and so patients may miss opportunities to receive specialist support."

Patients with mental illness were also more likely to be victims of domestic violence (emotional, physical and sexual abuse) than the general population. In the study, 69 percent of women and 49 percent of men with severe mental illness reported adulthood domestic violence.

Domestic violence from family members (other than partners) against psychiatric patients constituted 63 percent as compared with 35 percent of the general population.

"Most domestic violence prevention policies for adults focus on partner violence, but this study shows that interventions for psychiatric patients also need to target family violence," said Khalifeh.

The finding is published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

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