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Feb 03, 2014 08:56 AM EST

Women with Mental Illness Are Prone to Partner Violence, study

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Women, who are suffering from a serious mental illness, are nearly four times more likely to have been a victim of intimate partner violence than those without a disability, according to a Women's College Hospital study.

This is the first Canadian study to analyze the occurrence of intimate partner violence among women with limited movements, disability or due to mental health-related problems.

"Our study suggests that women whose daily activities were limited by a psychological, emotional or mental health condition may be especially vulnerable to being victimized," researcher Janice Du Mont said in a press release. "What's more, we found that the more severe the mental health related disability, the higher the prevalence of intimate partner violence."

Researchers said that women with a mental health-related disability are at a heightened risk of experiencing domestic violence from partners. Women are often subjected to frequent physical, sexual, emotional and financial exploitation by the partner, resulting in negative physical and psychological consequences.

"For women with a mental health-related disability, the consequences of experiencing discrimination can be devastating," said Du Mont. "It may lead to social isolation and put these women at greater risk for harmful or abusive relationships, discouraging them from seeking help from their abusive relationship and their mental health problems."

For the study, the researchers surveyed a sample of 6,851 women and asked about their relationship status with their partners in the previous five years.

The researchers found that about 45 per cent of women with severe mental health related disability faced intolerance and hostility in the past five years in comparison with 15 per cent of women without any disability.

Women with serious mental illness had low levels of confidence and trust toward family, neighbors and their colleagues. They felt detached from their community.

These women reported lower household incomes. Increased levels of emotional, financial, physical and/or sexual torture were seen among women with both severe and moderate mental health disabilities.

"Our findings suggest that prevention and intervention activities may need to better target women with mental health disabilities, to help alleviate the suffering and negative impact of partner abuse," said Du Mont.

The findings are published in the journal BioMed Central Public Health.

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