Women and men with mental health problems are significantly more likely to have experienced domestic violence


The 2010/11 British Crime Survey reported that levels of lifetime partner abuse were 27% in women and 17% in men. The survey concluded that women experience more domestic violence than men and the abuse is more severe and prolonged in women.

The Home Office is planning to redefine domestic violence in the coming months, to include younger people. Domestic violence will be defined as:

any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse.


The links between domestic violence and mental health are reasonably well established, but most research in this area to date has focused on depression, so it’s good to see a new systematic review and meta-analysis in the open-access PLOS ONE journal, which brings together the results of 41 studies comparing the prevalence of domestic violence in people with a wide range of mental health conditions, with people with no mental health problems.

The authors conducted a comprehensive and systematic search to find observational and intervention studies reporting prevalence or odds of being a victim of domestic violence in men and women (aged ≥16 years). They included studies that used validated diagnostic measures of mental disorder and analysed the data using a random effects meta-analysis to pool estimates of prevalence and odds.


  • Compared to women without mental disorders, there is a higher risk of lifetime partner violence in:
    • Women with depression (OR 2.77, 95% CI 1.96-3.92)
    • Women with anxiety disorders (OR 4.08, 95% CI 2.39-6.97)
    • Women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (OR 7.34, 95% CI 4.50-11.98)
  • The review concluded that there was not enough data to calculate pooled estimates for:
    • Other mental health conditions
    • Violence committed by a non-partner family member
    • Violence to men
  • Individual studies reported higher risk of domestic violence for all mental health conditions (including psychoses), but there were not enough good quality longitudinal studies to establish a strong link.


The authors concluded:

There is a high prevalence and increased likelihood of being a victim of domestic violence in men and women across all diagnostic categories, compared to people without disorders. Longitudinal studies are needed to identify pathways to being a victim of domestic violence to optimise healthcare responses.

Co-author Gene Feder said:

We hope this review will draw attention to the mental health needs of survivors of domestic violence and remind general practitioners and mental health teams that experience of domestic violence may lie behind the presentation of mental health problems.


Trevillion K, Oram S, Feder G, Howard LM. Experiences of domestic violence and mental disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE 2012 7(12): e51740. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051740

Crime in England and Wales 2010/11: Findings from the British Crime Survey and police recorded crime (2nd Edition). Home Office, July 2011.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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