Evidence that prior partner abuse is a contributing factor for psychiatric disorders in women was presented in a recent article in The American Journal of Psychiatry (2006;163: 885-892). In a longitudinal research-designed prospective study, Dr Miriam K. Ehrensaft, of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and colleagues measured the incidence of psychiatric disorders in men and women at age 18, partner abuse at ages 24 to 26, and psychiatric disorders at age 26.
The study found that both young men and young women with psychiatric disorders were at greatest risk for being involved in abusive relationships. In addition, after controlling for a history of disorder at age 18 and for lifetime conduct disorder, findings from the study imply a connection between being in a clinically abusive relationship (defined as resulting in injury and/or official intervention) and a woman's risk at age 26 of major depressive episodes, marijuana dependence, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Involvement in a clinically abusive relationship had no statistically significant effect on men's odds of psychiatric diagnosis at age 26.
Repeated measures of mental health disorder before and after the experience of an abusive relationship were used to show that although many young adults who experienced abuse had a psychiatric history as adolescents, the experience of physical abuse itself is associated with an increased incidence of psychiatric disorders in women but not in men.
This study extends the importance of sex differences to the mental health consequences of partner abuse. The data from this study support previous findings suggesting that women who are abused by a partner develop mental health problems, whereas the association between partner abuse and mental disorders in men appears to be associated with prior psychopathologic disorders.