Women who suffer domestic abuse three times as likely to attempt suicide

Posted: 22nd February 2023

Source: The Guardian

Campaigners for women’s rights say findings about intimate partner violence are ‘shocking and appalling’.

Women who suffer domestic abuse are three times more likely than their peers to try to take their own life, new research reveals.

Those who have experienced sexual abuse within a relationship have an even higher risk of suicide, and are seven times more likely to have attempted to end their life.

Campaigners for women’s rights say the findings are “shocking and appalling” and should prompt GPs, midwives, jobcentre staff and others who come into contact with vulnerable women to start routinely asking them about their personal safety.

Victims of abuse by a partner are also more than three times as likely to self-harm and at more than double the risk of having suicidal thoughts.

The findings come from an analysis by Sally McManus, a health expert at City, University of London, who undertook the UK survey of adult mental health for the charity Agenda Alliance.

It is the first academic research in the UK to find a very close link between what the World Health Organization calls “intimate partner violence” (IPV) and suicidal ideation among women – either having suicidal thoughts or making an attempt to end their life. More than a quarter (27%) of women are estimated to suffer IPV during their lifetime.

A briefing by Agenda Alliance, based on McManus’s conclusions, says: “While this briefing does not establish a causal relationship between IPV and suicidality, it demonstrates that experiencing IPV can act as a precursor to suicidality.

“It is concerning that some who die by suicide may be ‘hidden victims’ of domestic abuse, left uncounted and unrecognised.”

McManus analysed the three most recent editions of the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, which asks 7,000 people aged 16 and over in detail about their mental health, published in 2000, 2007 and 2014.

She examined the number of women who had experienced physical, sexual, emotional or economic IPV and those who had self-harmed, had suicidal thoughts or tried to end their life in the last year.

Jess Southgate, Agenda Alliance’s deputy chief executive, said: “The key findings are shocking and appalling. It’s shameful that the clear link between domestic abuse and suicidal feelings among women has not previously been recognised as the public health crisis that it is.

“Our analysis is groundbreaking. The unique dataset shows that women in the UK who suffer domestic abuse are more likely than those who have not experienced abuse to have made a suicide attempt. The risk is worst for victims of sexual violence within a relationship.”

The fact that three-quarters of those who take their own lives are men has led to the link between domestic abuse and suicide being overlooked, she added, saying: “There has also been a focus in suicide prevention on men’s mental health due to their longstanding suicide rate.

“However, women’s pain and distress is ignored at all of our peril. This is a public health crisis. Our findings show the long-term impact of abuse on someone’s mental health. At its worst it can be fatal.”

Women living in poverty, or who are unemployed, or cannot work because of sickness or disability and those who are in debt are more likely to suffer IPV, McManus found.

The analysis shows that “when a woman presents to services in suicidal distress it is likely that she’s a victim of domestic abuse”, she said.

An NHS spokesperson said: “Any woman who needs mental health support should come forward for help and talk to their GP or local talking therapies service, where you can self-refer.

“There is more specialist help available for those who need it. NHS England also commissions sexual assault referral centres which provide a safe space and dedicated care for anyone who has been sexually assaulted or abused.”

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