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Mental woes high for violence victims

Women who are victims of violence at the hands of men are highly likely to suffer mental disorders for the rest of their lives, research shows.

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A wide-ranging study has found the more types of gender-based violence a woman suffered, the more likely she was to develop lifelong mental disorders, disabilities and substance abuse problems.

The study of more than 4000 Australian women looked at their experience of the four most common types of gender-based violence – sexual assault, rape, stalking and being badly beaten by their partners.

About 15 per cent of Australian women report sexual assault, while eight per cent report rape, 10 per cent say they have a stalker and eight per cent report being beaten by their partner.

The study found strong links between those four types of violence and mental health problems including attempted suicide, post traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Women who suffered more than three forms of violence had a 90 per cent chance of developing a lifetime mental disorder compared to a 28 per cent chance among those who had not.

But even if the women experienced fewer types of violence, the rate of mental disorders remained high – 69 per cent for those exposed to two types of violence.

Gender-based violence was also associated with physical disability, impaired quality of life and a worsening of any existing mental disorders.

The findings, published on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, were based on a survey of 4451 women aged 16 to 85 who took part in the 2007 National Mental Health and Wellbeing Survey.

Lead researcher Dr Susan Rees, from the University of New South Wales’ school of psychiatry, said while previous studies had shown links between violence and mental disorders, this was the first to expose the high rates of such disorders among women.

She called for the health care system, particularly psychiatric services, to work closer with women’s services to improve support for victims of violence.

“This association is so clear and so strong that women accessing services for gender-based violence need access to very good quality mental health care which is has not always been the case,” Dr Rees told AAP.

“We also need to underscore the importance of getting to the root cause of the violence against women.

“It’s a public health problem and one that really needs to be addressed by looking at attitudes towards women and gender inequality which are the cause of the problem.”

Among the women who experienced at least one form of violence, 30 per cent had a mood disorder, nearly 40 per cent an anxiety disorder, 23 per cent were abusing substances and 15 per cent were affected by post traumatic stress syndrome.

More than six per cent had attempted suicide, compared to 35 per cent of women who suffered at least three forms of violence.

For the women who suffered higher levels of violence, the rates of anxiety disorders was 77 per cent, 52 per cent for mood disorders, substance abuse 47 per cent and post traumatic stress syndrome 56 per cent.

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