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Intimate Partner Abuse and Mental Health: The Role of Social Support and Other Protective Factors

NCJ Number
Violence Against Women Volume: 8 Issue: 6 Dated: June 2002 Pages: 720-745
Bonnie E. Carlson; Louise-Anne McNutt; Deborah Y. Choi; Isabel M. Rose
Date Published
26 pages
This article looks at whether social support as well as other protective factors may help buffer an abused woman from the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The authors note that intimate partner abuse is a source of mental health problems for women, contributing to depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Previous research has studied whether high levels of social support may effectively mitigate some of the mental health problems experienced by abused women. These studies have found that even minimal levels of social support may have a buffering effect from depression. The current study probed not only the buffering effects of social support on the mental health of abused women, but also studied the protective factors of good health, self-esteem, education, income, and employment. The authors employed a cross-sectional survey of 557 women and included questions concerning recent intimate partner violence, past intimate partner violence, and child abuse. Three main research questions were posed: (a) did abused women have lower levels of social support than nonabused women; (b) was social support associated with a lower prevalence of depression and anxiety; and (c) did the presence of multiple protective factors -- specifically high support from partner and another confidant, higher levels of education, better health, higher self-esteem, absence of economic hardship, and employment -- soften the association between lifetime abuse and depression and anxiety? Results of statistical analyses indicated that, as expected, depression and anxiety were associated with childhood, past adult, and recent adult abuse. However, contrary to their hypothesis, women who reported the most severe abuse were less likely to benefit from protective factors. The authors note that this finding is their most important and interesting finding. Despite this startling result, the authors report that having more protective factors is associated with less anxiety and depression in abused women. In particular, they found that the absence of economic hardship was especially influential in buffering women from the harmful mental health problems associated with abuse. Thus, from a clinical perspective, interventions that increase the protective factors studied here have the potential to help abused women avoid developing the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Tables, appendix, and references