The damage from partner abuse extends beyond physical bruises and lacerations as victims often suffer high rates of mental health distress.
A new policy brief from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research reported that of the 3.5 million Californians who said they had been the victim of intimate partner violence (IPV), more than half a million — 594,000 — said they experienced recent symptoms of “serious psychological distress.”
This classification includes the most serious kinds of diagnosable mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Adult victims of IPV were more than three times as likely as unexposed adults to report serious psychological distress in the past year.
Victims of IPV were also far more likely than non-victims to seek mental health care and to cope by binge drinking and the like.
“Violence does double damage to a victim, leaving both a physical and emotional scar,” said the study’s lead author, Elaine Zahnd, Ph.D.
“Policymakers and care providers need to ensure that support services and screenings are available to victims even weeks or months after an attack.”
Among the findings:
- • Women were more than twice as likely as men to have been the victim of IPV (20.5 percent vs. 9.1 percent), with almost 2.5 million women having experienced adult IPV;
- • Both female (17.5 percent) and male (15.3 percent) victims of adult IPV were more likely than non-victims to report serious psychological distress during the past year;
- • Larger numbers of female victims (428,000) were affected by serious psychological distress than male victims (166,000) — since women make up the majority of IPV cases;
- • Almost half of all IPV victims (47.6 percent) said that their partner appeared to be drinking alcohol or using drugs during the most recent violent incident;
- • Nearly one in three adults (33.1 percent) who reported being an adult IPV victim said they needed help for a mental or emotional problem or an alcohol or other drug problem. In contrast, just 12.6 percent of non-victims reported needing similar help;
- • Adult IPV victims were two-and-a-half times more likely (23.9 percent) than non-victims (9.5 percent) to report seeing their primary care physician, a psychiatrist, a social worker or a counselor in the past year for problems with their psychological or emotional health and/or their use of alcohol or other drugs;
- • More than half of all IPV victims subjected to a recent IPV incident (52.4 percent) reported engaging in binge drinking over the past year, a significantly higher rate than those who had not experienced a recent IPV incident (35.1 percent). And 7 percent of recent IPV victims reported binge drinking on a daily to weekly basis, a higher level than those who were never exposed to IPV (4.5 percent).
Given these findings, study authors recommend that health screening for IPV, for emotional health and for substance use problems among patients and clients, regardless of gender, should be expanded, standardized and made routine.
“The study shows that our response to violence as a society must be many-faceted, and California’s domestic violence service providers are able to offer an array of services to survivors of IPV, ” said Peter Long, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Blue Shield of California Foundation.
“But most of all, we must all work harder to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.”