Primary Care

Association between depression and abuse by partners of women attending general practice: descriptive, cross sectional survey

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 11 March 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:621
  1. Kelsey Hegarty, senior lecturer (k.hegarty{at},
  2. Jane Gunn, associate professor1,
  3. Patty Chondros, lecturer1,
  4. Rhonda Small, senior research fellow2
  1. 1 Department of General Practice, University of Melbourne, Vic 3053, Australia
  2. 2 Centre for the Study of Mothers' and Children's Health, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Vic 3053, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: K Hegarty
  • Accepted 20 February 2004


Objective To explore the association between depression and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by partners or ex-partners of women attending general practice.

Design Descriptive, cross sectional survey.

Setting 30 general practitioners in Victoria, Australia.

Participants 1257 consecutive female patients.

Main outcome measures Some type of abuse in an adult intimate relationship (composite abuse scale), depression (Beck depression inventory or Edinburgh postnatal depression scale), and physical health (SF-36).

Results 18.0% (218/1213) of women scored as currently probably depressed and 24.1% (277/1147) had experienced some type of abuse in an adult intimate relationship. Depressed women were significantly more likely to have experienced severe combined abuse than women who were not depressed after adjusting for other significant sociodemographic variables (odds ratio 5.8, 95% confidence interval 2.8 to 12.0). These variables included not being married, having a poor education, being on a low income, being unemployed or receiving a pension, pregnancy status, or being abused as a child.

Conclusion Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse are strongly associated with depression in women attending general practice. Doctors should sensitively ask depressed women about their experiences of violence and abuse in intimate relationships. Research into depression should include measures of partner abuse in longitudinal and intervention studies.


  • Editorial by Ferris and p 618

  • We thank Nancy Carabella, Christina Pitter, and Jacinta Lee who administered the project; the general practitioners and women who participated; Cate Nagle who helped with coding; the research assistants who collected the data (Tessa Keegal, Deidre Harrison, Desiree Green, Amanda Webb, Caroline Curtis, Colleen Nordstrom, Ann Vlass, Sally Ann Avery, Elke Varga, and Prue Forbes); the Women's Health in General Practice research group (University of Melbourne); Vanessa Madden who reviewed the final draft; and Peter Rose (Oxford University) for editing.

  • Contributors KH designed the study and drafted and led revision of the paper assisted by JG, PC, and RS. KH will act as guarantor for the paper. JG and RS helped design the study and interpret the data. PC analysed and interpreted the data. The guarantor accepts full responsibility for the conduct of the study, had access to the data, and controlled the decision to publish.

  • Funding This project was funded by the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services, Canberra, Australia through the General Practice Evaluation Program.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethical approval This study was approved by the human ethics committee, University of Melbourne.

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