Views from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Woman defending herself

Link between intimate partner violence and depression is in both directions

Not only are women who have experienced violence from their partner (intimate partner violence) at higher risk of becoming depressed, but women who are depressed may also be at increased risk of experiencing intimate partner violence, according to a study led by researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The study, published in PLOS Medicine, also found that there may be a link between intimate partner violence and subsequent suicide among women, but that there is little evidence to support a similar finding in men.

The researchers reached these conclusions by reviewing published studies that followed up individuals over a period of time (longitudinal studies) and examined intimate partner violence, depression, and suicide attempts.

Over 36,000 people from high and middle-income countries were included in the review and in a further analysis, the authors found that in women, experience of intimate partner violence nearly doubled the odds of subsequent depression. However, they also found that women with depression had nearly double the odds of subsequently experiencing intimate partner violence.

For men, the authors found some evidence of a link between intimate partner violence and later depression but no evidence for a link between depressive symptoms and subsequent intimate partner violence.

Lead author, Dr Karen Devries, a social epidemiologist from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “Our results show that women who experience violence from their partners are more likely to have depressive symptoms, but also that women who already report high levels of depressive symptoms are more likely to be victimised by their partners.

“We hope these findings will prompt service providers seeing depressed women to consider women’s possible histories of violence and if they may currently be experiencing violence, and to adjust models of care accordingly. Our results also suggest that programmes to prevent violence against women could reduce the amount of depression in the population—further research is needed to test whether this is the case.”

The researchers have also called for further studies to explore why having depressive symptoms can lead to incident violence. One possibility is that young women with depressive symptoms are predisposed to choose partners who use violence.

The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.


Devries KM, Mak J, Bacchus L, Child J, Falder G, et al. (2013) Intimate Partner Violence and Incident Depressive Symptoms and Suicide Attempts: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies. PLoS Medicine doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001439

Image: Woman defending herself from an attack in the dark.

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