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Gender-based violence affects women’s mental health


Women who experience gender-based violence such as rape, sexual assault, intimate partner violence and stalking are at an increased risk to develop mental health disorders in their lifetimes, finds a new Australian study.

Tormented women were found to be at risk for mental illness, disability, substance abuse, and suicidal tendencies.

The study finds a strong correlation between severe mental imbalance and sexual harassment. Researchers analyzed the results of a national survey of 4,451 women aged 16 to 85 conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2007. For the women who suffered higher levels of violence, the rate of anxiety disorders was 77 percent, 52 percent for mood disorders, substance abuse 47 percent and post-traumatic stress syndrome 56 percent.

Investigators discovered the four most common types of gender-based violence – physical violence by an intimate partner (7.8 per cent), rape (8 per cent), other sexual assault (15 per cent) and stalking (10 per cent) – 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.

In the United States, more than 20 percent of women have experienced intimate-partner violence, stalking or both. A full 17 percent have reported rape or attempted rape, according to information in the study.

The study is the most comprehensive ever undertaken of gender-based violence in a nationally representative sample of women. Findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The study finds that women who have been raped or faced any kind of abuse or sexual harassment have far higher rates of mental disorders and are up to 20 times more likely to attempt suicide than other females.

“It was the strength of these associations that was most shocking,” said study leader Susan Rees, Ph.D. “There is an overwhelming link between gender violence and key indicators of women’s mental health, well-being and risk of suicide attempts.”

She mentioned that 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. Attempted suicide figures were alarming with a 1.6 percent attempted suicide rate for women never exposed to gender-based violence rising to six percent for women who had experienced one type and 34 percent for those enduring three or four types of violence.

“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.

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