The effect of intimate partner violence on women's mental distress: a prospective cohort study of 3010 rural Indian women


PURPOSE: Intimate partner violence (IPV) encompasses physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as controlling behavior. Most research focuses on physical and sexual abuse, and other aspects of IPV are rarely investigated. We estimated the effect of these neglected aspects of IPV on women’s mental distress. METHODS: We used data from 3010 women living in rural tribal communities in Rajasthan, India. Women completed baseline interviews and were re-interviewed approximately 1.5 years later. We measured IPV with questions adopted from the Demographic and Health Survey’s Domestic Violence Module, which asked seven questions about physical abuse, three questions about psychological abuse, and five questions about partner controlling behavior. Mental distress was measured with the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (score range 0-12). We used Poisson regression models to estimate the relation between changes in IPV and mental distress, accounting for time-fixed characteristics of individuals using individual fixed effects. RESULTS: Women reported an average of 2.1 distress symptoms during baseline interviews. In models that controlled for time-varying confounding (e.g., wealth, other types of abuse), experiencing psychological abuse was associated with an increase of 0.65 distress symptoms (95% CI 0.32, 0.98), and experiencing controlling behavior was associated with an increase of 0.31 distress symptoms (95% CI 0.18, 0.44). However, experiencing physical abuse was not associated with an increase in distress symptoms (mean difference = - 0.15, 95% CI - 0.45, 0.15). CONCLUSIONS: Psychological abuse and controlling behavior may be important drivers of the relation between IPV and women’s mental health.

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol
Sam Harper
Sam Harper
Associate Professor of Epidemiology

My research interests include impact evaluation, reproducible research, and social epidemiology.