According to a new study from the University of Toronto, adults exposed to chronic domestic violence by parents have a higher prevalence of depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders, and lower levels of social support than their peers who do not experience childhood adversities.
The study findings were published in the ‘Journal of Family Violence.
The study found that one-fifth (22.5 percent) of adults who were exposed to chronic parental domestic violence during childhood developed major depressive disorder at some point in their lives. This was much higher than the 9.1 percent of those with no history of parental domestic violence.
“Our findings underscore the risk of negative long-term outcomes of chronic domestic violence for children, even when the children themselves are not abused,” said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, director of the Institute for the Life Course and the University of Toronto Aging at the University of Toronto and Professor at the Factor-Inwentash College of Social Work (FSW).
“Social workers and health professionals must work vigilantly to prevent domestic violence and support both survivors of this abuse and their children,” Fuller-Thomson added. Sexual abuse makes it difficult to examine mental health outcomes associated with parental domestic violence in the absence of child abuse.
To address this issue, the authors excluded anyone from their study who had experienced physical or sexual abuse in childhood.
The study’s nationally representative sample ultimately included 17,739 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health respondents, of whom 326 reported witnessing POV more than 10 times before the age of 16, defined as ‘POV chronic’.
One in six adults (15.2 percent) who had experienced chronic POV reported later developing an anxiety disorder. Only 7.1 percent of those who had not been exposed to parental violence also reported experiencing an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.
“Many children who are exposed to domestic violence from their parents remain constantly vigilant and perpetually anxious, fearful that any conflict could escalate into aggression. Therefore, it is not surprising that decades later, as adults, those with a history of POV have an elevated prevalence of anxiety disorders,” said co-author Deirdre Ryan-Morissette, a recent FIFSW Master of Social Work graduate. from the University of Toronto.
More than a quarter of adults (26.8 percent) who were exposed to chronic PDV in childhood developed substance use disorders, compared to 19.2 percent of those who were not exposed to this adversity early.
However, the findings were not all negative. More than three in five adults chronic POV survivors were in excellent mental health, free of any mental illness, substance dependence, or suicidal thoughts in the past year; We were happy and/or satisfied with her life and reported high levels of social and psychological well-being, despite her exposure to such distressing experiences in childhood.
Although the prevalence of flourishing mental health was lower among those exposed to chronic POV compared with those whose parents were not violent toward each other (62.5 percent vs. 76.1 percent), it was much higher than expected. the authors expected.
“We were encouraged to find that so many adults were exposed to this early adversity and are free of mental illness and prosperous,” said co-author Shalhevet Attar-Schwartz, a professor at Hebrew University’s Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare.
“Our analysis indicated that social support was an important factor. Among those who had experienced PDV, those with more social support were much more likely to have excellent mental health.”
The study was limited by several factors. The Canadian Community Health Survey did not include important information on PDV, such as the duration in years, the respondent’s relationship to the perpetrator of the violence, or the severity of the violence. The study was based on cross-sectional data collected at one point in time; It would have been much better to have longitudinal rather than cross-sectional data.
“Our study highlights the need for more research on interventions for mental illness, substance use disorders, and social isolation among people exposed to PDV, with the goal that a greater proportion of people experiencing adversities in life childhood achieve optimal mental health,” Fuller-Thomson said.