Mental Health Identified as Key Issue in Domestic Violence – for Both Victims and Perpetrators

domestic violence mental health

Trigger warning: this article contains references to domestic violence and assault

Although mental health is openly talked about when it comes to work, first responders, triggers, news and more, when it comes to domestic violence, it’s a “hidden picture” in terms of both perpetrators and victims, according to researchers from the University of New South Wales.

They used data mining to discover this within police reports, something that would’ve otherwise taken 160 years for one individual to read and analyse. 492,393 domestic violence police records in New South Wales were analysed, covering a 12 year period between 2005-2016.

So what was discovered? Well, researchers focused on domestic violence events that mentioned a single perpetrator against a single victim which made up for 416,441 reports. Within those, 65,000 involved mental illness for victims or perpetrators with over 120 illnesses being identified. 

That’s 16% of domestic violence events, that contained at least one mention of a mental illness for perpetrator or victim. In 76% of these events, it was mentioned for perpetrator only; 17% it was mentioned in the victim only; in 7% mental illness was mentioned for both victim and perpetrator. The most common mental illness mentioned was mood affective disorders, which includes illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder.

A key finding was that there was a steady increase over time in domestic violence cases that involved alcohol abuse, in perpetrators aged 15-64. A second key finding was the number of domestic violence events where victims over 55 years were said to have dementia.

Regardless of their findings, researchers said: “This is likely a big underestimate.” Reports don’t capture all instances of domestic violence, and those who do put forward mentions of mental health are often not mental health professionals. People may also be uncomfortable mentioning their mental health to police, due to the stigma that still surrounds mental health.

So what does this research mean going forward? Well, in an article for The Conversation, researchers say it can “potentially dispel myths about domestic violence and mental health, and raise awareness for certain groups’ vulnerability.” 

Vulnerable groups at risk of being victims include people with autism spectrum disorders, carers, and people in specific settings like nursing homes. The most common conditions in perpetrators were developmental conditions and intellectual disability, for non-autistic perpetrators, it was schizophrenia and substance abuse. 

These findings could also help police handle domestic violence events where mental health in an issue police officers in NSW are currently only given a two-day training program in mental health issues.

If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also talk to someone from 1800RESPECT via online chat. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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