According to a new study from the University of Toronto, adults exposed to persistent parental domestic violence had a higher frequency of melancholy, anxiety, and drug misuse problems, as well as poorer levels of social support.
The study’s findings were published in the journal “Family Violence.” According to the study, one-fifth (22.5%) of individuals who were exposed to chronic parental domestic violence as children had a serious depressive illness at some point in their lives. This was much greater than the 9.1% of those without a history of parental domestic violence.
“Our findings highlight the risk of long-term negative outcomes for children of chronic domestic violence, even when the children themselves are not abused,” said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, Director of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Life Course and Aging and Professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work (FIFSW).
Fuller-Thomson continued, “Social workers and health professionals must work tirelessly to prevent domestic violence and to help both survivors and their children.”
Parental domestic violence (PDV) frequently happens in the context of other adversities such as childhood physical and sexual abuse, making it difficult to investigate the mental health effects linked simply to PDV in the absence of childhood trauma.
To overcome this issue, the authors eliminated everyone from their research who had been subjected to physical or sexual abuse as a kid.
The study’s nationally representative sample eventually comprised 17,739 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health respondents, 326 of whom reported having observed PDV more than 10 times before the age of 16, which was characterised as “chronic PDV.”
One in every six people (15.2%) who had chronic PDV reported developing an anxiety problem later in life. Only 7.1% of individuals who had not experienced parental violence reported having an anxiety condition at some point in their lives.
Many children who have witnessed their parents’ domestic violence are continuously cautious and nervous, worried that any argument may develop into an assault. As a result, it is not unexpected that individuals with a history of PDV have an increased frequency of anxiety disorders decades later. A co-author is Deirdre Ryan-Morissette, a recent Masters of Social Work graduate from the University of Toronto’s FIFSW.
More than a quarter of people (26.8%) who were exposed to chronic PDV as children developed drug use problems, compared to 19.2% of those who were not exposed to this early adversity.
The findings, however, were not entirely bad. More than three out of every five adult survivors of chronic PDV had excellent mental health, with no mental illness, substance abuse, or suicidal thoughts in the previous year; they were happy and/or satisfied with their lives, and reported high levels of social and psychological well-being, despite their childhood exposure to such harrowing experiences.
Although the frequency of thriving mental health was lower among kids exposed to chronic PDV compared to those whose parents were not aggressive with one another (62.5 vs. 76.1%), it was still much greater than the investigators had predicted.
“We were thrilled to learn that so many people have overcome their early adversities and are now free of mental illness and prospering,” said co-author Shalhevet Attar-Schwartz, Professor at Hebrew University’s Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare.
“According to our findings, social support was a significant component. Those who had suffered PDV and had greater social support had a substantially higher chance of having excellent mental health. “
Several issues hampered the investigation. The Canadian Community Health Survey omitted vital information on PDV, such as the duration in years, the respondent’s relationship to the perpetrator of the violence, and the intensity of the violence.
The study relied on cross-sectional data collected at a single moment in time; longitudinal data would have been preferable.
“Our study emphasises the need for more research on interventions for mental illness, substance use disorders, and social isolation among those with PDV exposure, with the goal of increasing the proportion of those experiencing childhood adversities achieving optimal mental health,” Fuller-Thomson said.
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