Men and women in intimate relationships marked by violence are more likely to contend with both mental and physical health problems, a Yale-led study has found.
Exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV), from physical assault to emotional abuse, has been known to affect as many as half of all women in the United States over their adult lifetimes, raising their risk of adverse health conditions such as injury and depression. Studies also show that adults who report childhood abuse displayed similar poor health status.
To confirm the link between IPV and poor health outcomes, and assess whether the threat looms larger for women, the researchers culled data from a national survey given to over 8,000 young adults with histories of sexual relationships. The questions addressed childhood maltreatment, health status prior to IPV and timing and type of IPV.
“The results have increased our confidence that IPV is a causal factor in leading to poor health outcomes during adulthood,” said senior author Jason Fletcher, assistant professor in the division of Health Policy and Administration. The study appears online in the journal Social Science & Medicine.
Because the study was also able to compare a significant number of siblings, the importance of IPV was affirmed “even after accounting for other environmental and family factors such as disadvantaged neighborhoods with high crime and disadvantaged households,” which have the potential to obscure cause-and-effect relationships, Fletcher said.
He noted that one of the surprise findings was the lack of variability between males and females in reported rates of IPV exposure and health outcomes.
“The typical finding is that females have much higher likelihood of exposure, and exposure has more severe repercussions for females,” he said. “But our data shows that IPV reduces health similarly in all those who are exposed.”
This study may prompt a rethinking of conventional wisdom surrounding interventions, he added.
“Developing effective interventions is an important next step to this research,” Fletcher said. “The results do suggest, though, that broad-based support efforts, rather than efforts targeted to females and individuals with histories of child abuse, may be necessary.”