Suicide, mental health linked to sex abuse

August 3, 2011 (AFP) – Women who have experienced rape or other abuse have far higher rates of mental disorders and are up to 20 times more likely to attempt suicide than other females, an Australian study has showed.

The findings, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed a very strong association between exposure to gender-based violence and mental disorder, said study leader Susan Rees.

“Based on other studies, we expected there to be a correlation and an association, but the strength of it was particularly concerning,” said Rees, from the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales.

“Not only was there a higher rate (of mental disorder) but there was also a greater severity.”

Researchers analysed the results of a national survey of 4,451 women aged 16 to 85 conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2007.

They looked at the four more common types of abuse — physical violence by an intimate partner, rape, other sexual assault and stalking — and the rate of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, and substance abuse.

“For women exposed to two types of gender-based violence the lifetime rate of mental disorder was 69 percent and for three or more types of gender-based violence, it was 89.4 percent,” Rees said.

“This compares with a rate of 28 percent for women who have not experienced violence.”

Attempted suicide figures were alarming with a 1.6 percent attempted suicide rate for women never exposed to gender-based violence rising to six percent for women who had experienced one type and 34 percent for those enduring three or four types.

Rees, a senior research fellow at UNSW’s Psychiatry Research and Teaching Unit, said the analysis was the most comprehensive done in a nationally representative sample and would therefore have relevance to other countries.

The data, which showed about 15 percent of Australian women had reported sexual assault of some sort and eight percent had reported being raped, was comparable with other countries, she added.

“Gender-based violence is considered a human rights violation against women,” she told AFP.

“We really did the research to find out: is there anything that’s working to address this? And if so, what is it?”

“There’s not enough information out there about the effectiveness of programmes and intervention. For all of us, we should be looking globally at trying to address this.”

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