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Gender-based violence, women’s mental health and resilience (Australia and USA)

August 11, 2011

New research from Australia and the USA offers evidence that women’s mental health is impacted by gender-based violence, but that women can recover and have strong resilience. The research offers evidence of the critical importance of addressing gender-based violence in women’s mental health promotion.

An Australian study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looks at the mental health impacts of four pervasive and co-occurring types of gender-based violence: physical intimate partner violence, rape, other forms of sexual assault, and stalking.

Researchers used data from the 2007 Australian National Mental Health and Well-being Survey to study the experiences of 4,451 women aged 16 to 85 years. The researchers found that over 27 percent of the women studied reported experiences of at least one type of gender-based violence. An association was found between gender-based violence and mood, anxiety and substance use disorders, with greater rates for women who had experienced greatest exposure to violence.

A recent USA-based study offers evidence that women can recover from exposure to violence and have strong resilience. The study published in theJournal of Child and Family Social Work looks at protective factors for women who were exposed to domestic violence during their childhood. Through examination of the experiences of 68 women, both childhood risk and protective factors and adult resilience and levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were studied. The study findings reveal significant differences in levels of PTSD between participants who experienced police involvement during their childhood, had mothers who experienced mental health problems themselves, and whose mothers had full-time or steady employment. The latter finding suggests the importance of overlapping social determinants of health. Based on the study findings, researchers suggest that resilience and post-trauma symptoms should not necessarily be understood as opposites, but as different parts of the coping and adjustment experience for adult children.

See “Lifetime Prevalence of Gender-Based Violence in Women and the Relationship with Mental Disorders and Psychosocial Function,” Journal of the American Medical Association, August 2011, available at jama.ama-assn.org.

See “Assessing PTSD and Resilience for Females Who During Childhood Were Exposed to Domestic Violence,” Journal of Child and Family Social Work, 2011, available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.

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