Physical Abuse Common Among Depressed Women

September 03, 1998

Even though more than half of a group of depressed women had been physically abused at some point in their lives, and 15 percent had experienced abuse during the previous year, most of those recently abused were unlikely to receive mental health care, researchers report.

Compared with depressed women who had not been abused, those abused recently were five times more likely to receive medical care for physical problems, but only one-third as likely to receive mental health care, Sarah Hudson Scholle, DrPH, of the University of Pittsburgh, and her colleagues write in the September Journal of General Internal Medicine.

"Because nearly all depressed women experiencing physical abuse sought general medical, rather than mental health care during the study year, general medical screening for physical abuse appears to be a critical link to professional help for abused, depressed women," they say.

The researchers conducted in-person interviews with more than 300 Arkansas women with symptoms of depression who had been identified in a larger telephone survey of more than 11,000 households. The women were about 45 years old on average. Most were white (82.9%) and married (61.6%).

Almost two-thirds (62.5%) had been physically abused at some point in their lives, but only about a quarter (27.9%) of them had reported the abuse to a health or mental health professional. Women who had been abused tended to be in worse physical or mental shape than women who were not abused.

Nearly all (93%) of the abused women had sought recent medical help but less than half had obtained mental health services. This, say Scholle and colleagues, is consistent "with the controlling nature of an abusive relationship. Men who batter their wives may allow them to seek care for physical symptoms as long as they do not disclose information that would lead to detection of the abuse."

"Effective screening for domestic violence could be an important step in linking women to help they badly need and will not get otherwise, given their reticence to seek mental health care," they say.

The Journal of General Internal Medicine, a monthly peer-reviewed journal of the Society of General Internal Medicine, publishes original articles on research and education in primary care. For information about the Journal, contact: Margo Glen Alderton, (215) 823-4471.
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Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health http://www.cfah.org. For information about the Center, contact Richard Hebert rhebert@cfah.org.
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Center for Advancing Health

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