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Study: Link between depression, violence among women seems to be a 2-way street

Experts knew experiencing domestic violence puts people at an increased risk of depression, but now a new study indicates that depression may also put someone at an increased risk of domestic violence.
Experts knew experiencing domestic violence puts people at an increased risk of depression, but now a new study indicates that depression may also put someone at an increased risk of domestic violence.
Hibr/Flickr Creative Commons

For women, the link between domestic violence and depression may go both ways, according to a new study.

Writing in PLOS Medicine, the authors analyzed previously-published data involving more than 36,000 people and found that women who experienced domestic violence were more likely to be depressed – which researchers already knew.

But they also found that depression seemed to put women at higher risk of domestic violence. 

That same two-way relationship wasn't found in men, and Adriana Molina, the co-chair of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles's steering committee, found that "really interesting."

"That part made me wonder how much of it is depression and how much is the socialization, and the fact that we are socializing our women to not speak up or put up with domestic violence," she said.

Molina also mentioned she often sees a damaging mentality among women that "it's a 'good enough' relationship if [my partner only hits] me some of the time."

Violence in South L.A.

Molina said South Los Angeles "has traditionally been known as a community where violence is a part of life."

"It's part of what people deal with on the day-to-day," she said. "And there is definitely a link between violence at home leading to violence in the community."

Data from S.A.F.E. (Stop Abuse From Existing), L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's domestic violence awareness initiative, indicates that in 2011, more than 2,700 domestic violence crimes were reported in the LAPD's South Bureau, which encompasses much of South L.A. Among the four LAPD bureaus, South was second only to the Valley Bureau, which had 3,500-plus incidents.

"We know that people who are violent have typically been exposed to violence," said Molina, noting that often that initial exposure to violence takes place in the home.

S.A.F.E.'s data also broke down domestic violence crimes by LAPD division: In 2011, the Southwest, Southeast, Harbor, 77th Street and Newton divisions had a combined 3,252 cases of spousal battery. Those same divisions accounted for 33 of the city's 221 reported spousal aggravated assault causes.

South Los Angeles is full of "risk factors for violence," said Molina. "The challenge is also having those risk factors without having a lot of places to go to refuel, reenergize, reconnect," she said. In recent years, the area has been seeing more resources to help address the problem of domestic violence, Molina added.

The relationship between depression and domestic violence

Molina said in her work, she "definitely sees" depression and domestic violence coming together, but says she hasn't seen much evidence that it's a two-way link, as the study's authors found. But, Molina explained, that's "because by the time people get to us they've already experienced domestic violence" – and are already in the throes of depression.

It can quickly become a "snowball effect," said Molina, especially when a child is involved. She gave the example of a mother experiencing domestic violence, who's given an ultimatum by child services officials: either get away from the violence or lose her child.

"If you have a parent who's depressed and is really having a hard time just getting up in the morning, the chances of them having enough ego strength and enough gumption and enough belief in themselves to get up and take a chance as big as what they're being asked to do is pretty slim," she said. "When we don't recognize the depression as one of the things that needs to be treated, as a thing to support the family, it really puts the family at a disadvantage."

And if that parent does lose that child, she added, it will only further exacerbate the depression.

For their part, the study's authors said "further research is needed" to explore why the association between this sort of violence and depression seems to go both ways. But they suggested "it may be that young women with depressive symptoms are predisposed to choose partners who use violence."

They also noted that women who experienced domestic violence seemed to be at an increased risk of attempting suicide. They didn't find any evidence that the same was true for men. the likelihood a person would attempt suicide.