Psychological Abuse = Physical Abuse

Intimidation by Partners Inflicts Harm Equal to Sexual, Physical Abuse

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 24, 2002 -- To be harmful, abuse doesn't have to be just physical or sexual. Psychological abuse in an intimate relationship -- abuse of power or control -- can be just as detrimental to physical and mental health.

A new, large-scale study -- the first of its kind -- finds that victims are at equal risk of developing mental health and physical problems over the long term when an intimate partner inflicts a high level of psychological abuse.

The data support a growing body of research suggesting that physical and sexual abuse -- as well as psychological abuse or battering -- can be harmful to men and women equally, says researcher Ann L. Coker, PhD, of the University of Texas School of Public Health, in a news release.

In their study, Coker and colleagues analyzed data from the National Violence Against Women Survey, a random phone survey of some 8,000 men and 8,000 women across the U.S.The survey found that almost one-third of women and almost a fourth of men reported some form of abuse in relationships at some point in their lives. Psychological abuse was reported most frequently. It accounted for at least half of the abuse women reported and almost 75% of abuse reported by men.

Researchers defined psychological abuse as "verbal abuse and abuse of power of control," writes Coker.

They found that when an intimate partner inflicted psychological or physical abuse, victims had significantly poorer mental and physical health, whether they were men or women. These findings are consistent with previous studies in women, which have looked at the negative impact of only physical abuse. The findings are the first to demonstrate the impact of psychological abuse on physical and mental health over the long term.

Women were more likely to be depressed, to use drugs, and to have chronic disease, chronic mental illness, and physical injuries, the study shows.

Male victims of physical and psychological abuse were more likely to use drugs.

Verbal abuse did not have as strong a negative effect on either men or women, the study also showed.

If doctors can identify "intimate partner violence" early, an intervention could reduce the impact on overall health, she adds. -->