Chronic parental domestic violence exposure during childhood contributes to an adult developing a major depressive disorder at some point in his or her life.
A new, cross-sectional study from the University of Toronto addressed the relationship between parental domestic violence (PDV) and the mental health of adults who experienced violence at home during their growing years.
Parental Domestic Violence Exposure
Parental domestic violence often occurs in the framework of additional difficulty and hardships — including childhood sexual and physical abuse.
It’s difficult to examine the mental health outcomes that are linked solely with parental domestic violence in the absence of childhood abuse.
Engulfed with challenges to address this problem, researchers excluded anyone in their new study who had experienced childhood sexual or physical abuse.
The study consisted of 17,739 respondents from the Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health, of who 326 reported having witnessed this type of chronic violence more than ten times before they reached the age of 16.
Director of University of Toronto’s Institute for Life Course and Aging at the University of Toronto, author, Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson sites as follows:
“Our findings underline the risk of long-term negative outcomes of chronic domestic violence for children, even when the children themselves are not abused. Social workers and health professionals must work vigilantly to prevent domestic violence and to support both survivors of this abuse and their children”
Co-author Deirdre Ryan‑Morissette at the University of Toronto added,
“Many children who are exposed to their parent’s domestic violence remain constantly vigilant and perpetually anxious, fearful that any conflict may escalate into assault. Therefore, it is not surprising that decades later, when they are adults, those with a history of PDV have an elevated prevalence of anxiety disorders.”
Not Completely Negative
More than one-quarter of adults who were exposed to chronic parental domestic violence in childhood developed substance use disorders. Additionally, one in six adults who had experienced chronic PDV reported that they later developed an anxiety disorder.
On the other hand, the findings of this study weren’t all negative. More than three in five adult survivors of chronic PDV were in excellent mental health — free from any mental illness, suicidal thoughts, or substance dependence in the preceding year.
These individuals were either satisfied or happy with their life. In the face of their exposure to such distressing and traumatic experiences in childhood, they reported high levels of psychological and social and well-being.
Professor at Hebrew University’s Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare, and co-author, Shalhevet Attar-Schwartz expressed his view.
“We were encouraged to discover that so many adults overcame their exposure to this early adversity and are free of mental illness and thriving. Our analysis indicated that social support was an important factor. Among those who had experienced PDV, those who had more social support had much higher odds of being in excellent mental health.”
Several factors limited the study. The Canadian Community Health Survey didn’t include important information about the parental domestic violence. For example, criteria limiting the study pertained to the severity of the violence, the respondent’s relationship to the perpetrator of the violence, or the duration in years.
Additionally, it would have been much preferable to have longitudinal study data rather than cross-sectional data.
In closing, Fuller-Thomson sited,
“Our study highlights 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 having a greater proportion of those experiencing childhood adversities obtaining optimal mental health”