Domestic violence is very common but undetected in female psychiatric patients, according to a new study.
Violence in the home is a heavy burden to the victim, and affects society in different ways. In the UK, studies in Accident and Emergency (A&E) departments and in primary care have found a high prevalence of domestic violence that is associated with an increased risk of resulting mental disorders.
Based on these findings, a higher than average prevalence of domestic violence among psychiatric patients could be expected. This is the first British study to examine the situation among women attending psychiatric services.
71 women aged over 18 who were under the care of an urban community mental health team took part in the study. Domestic violence was assessed using a self-report questionnaire, and the researchers also carried out a review of the women's case notes.
It was found that 60% of the women had suffered physical violence from their partners at some time in their life, of whom 40% suffered injuries. 27% had experienced violence during pregnancy.
The majority - 82% - of the women in the study regarded questions on domestic violence as acceptable.
Factors significantly associated with physical violence were the presence of children, a previous history of overdose, and experience of sexual abuse after the age of 16.
The researchers comment that domestic violence is much more prevalent among women attending psychiatric services than in general practice or among those attending A&E departments.
Despite guidelines from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, there still seems to be reluctance among clinicians to question their patients about domestic violence.
What this study suggests, say the researchers, is that those women who have a serious mental illness should expect help with domestic violence as part of their routine care.
Royal College of Psychiatrists