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BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 17 August 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5239

Violence against women is strongly linked with common mental disorders

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More than a quarter of Australian women experience at least one type of gender based violence at some time in their life. In a nationally representative survey of 4451 women, aged 16-85 years, this included intimate partner physical violence, rape, other forms of sexual assault, and stalking. The survey also used structured interviews that had been validated for diagnosing common mental disorders. The overall lifetime prevalence of such disorders among these women was estimated at 38%, with a prevalence of 25% for anxiety, 18% for mood disorders, 14% for substance use disorders, and 10% for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Only 28% of women who had not been exposed to any of the four types of gender based violence had ever had one of these mental disorders, compared with 57% of women exposed to one form of violence and 89% of women exposed to three or four forms. Risk of any mental disorder, as well as all disorders individually, consistently increased with the number of forms of gender based violence to which women were exposed.

The link was particularly strong for PTSD. Compared with women who had not been exposed to gender based violence, those who had been exposed to one form were almost three times as likely to experience PTSD (odds ratio 2.82, 95% CI 2.01 to 3.95). These figures were 6.04 (3.87 to 9.42) and 15.90 (8.32 to 30.20) for exposure to two and three or four types of violence, respectively. Analyses were adjusted for a wide range of demographic, social, and economic factors, as well as personal and family medical history.

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