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  • Long-term impact of domestic violence on women's health

    Author: AAP

New Australian research has revealed the the long lasting impacts domestic violence has on a woman's physical health.

Women who have lived with a violent partner suffer "real" and long lasting physical health issues on top of poor mental health, new Australian research reveals.

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A University of Newcastle study tracked three generations of women for 16 years and found the physical health of those women involved in a violent relationship worsened as they aged.

Professor Deborah Loxton, from the Research Centre for Generational Health and Ageing and Hunter Medical Research Institute Public Health Program, says it's vital for clinicians and healthcare workers to understand and recognise the long-term impact of domestic violence on a woman's health.

"I suppose people think about physical health and violence in terms of injury but as well as that there is that impact of living with long-term stress," she said.


Frontline Health Auckland
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Radiologist - Rockhampton
Central Queensland Radiology

Domestic violence can lead to poor mental health, including depression and anxiety, and that these issues can last many years.

It is also associated with a higher prevalence of chronic pain and headaches, cervical cancer, chronic disease, and problems with physical function that affect quality of life, says Professor Loxton.

Researchers followed 16,761 participants in the Women's Health Australia study - also known as the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health - for 16 years.

The three groups of women, born from 1921-1926, 1946-1951 and 1973-1978, were asked whether they had ever been in a violent relationship and answered regular surveys assessing their physical and mental health.

The difference in physical function and general health among the women who had experienced violence at the hands of their partner compared to those from a non-violent relationship was "stark".

"Overwhelmingly they experienced poorer physical health, poorer mental health and more bodily pain over the 16 year study period," said Prof Loxton

One of the more interesting findings, she says, was that poor mental health was a risk factor in women entering into abusive relationships, as well as being a consequence of abuse.

"This indicates that appropriate mental health care can play a role in the prevention of domestic violence."

Professor Loxton says interventions and support available to women are frequently for the immediate crisis period, with many people believing that 'if she leaves, then she'll be alright'.

"Unfortunately, the reality for one in four Australian women is that the physical and mental health impacts of domestic violence could last a lifetime," she said.

"We need policies and interventions in place to provide support for the women who are still feeling the impact 10 or 20 years later."

The research is published in journal PLoS ONE.

National domestic violence helpline: 1800 737 732 or 1800RESPECT. In an emergency call triple-zero.


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