Intimate Partner Violence and Suicidality

October 13, 2023

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

A recent study in England found an association between intimate partner violence (IPV) and suicidality and self-harm.

Researchers used data from the 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, a cross-sectional survey of 7,058 adults in England. To analyze the prevalence of IPV, they looked at survey data on past-year and lifetime experiences with physical violence and sexual, economic, and emotional abuse from a partner, in the whole sample and by gender. The researchers then compared past-year non-suicidal self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts among those with and without experiences of IPV. Finally, they examined whether any associations between IPV and suicidality and self-harm were affected by other factors, such as socioeconomic context and experiencing other adversities. 

The analysis found that a fifth (21.4%) of participants reported a lifetime experience of IPV, and 27.2% of women and 15.3% of men had experienced IPV in their lifetime. Women who had experienced IPV were three times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past year than women who had not experienced IPV. They were also more likely to have experienced other adversities, such as financial crises and job loss. Nearly half of the women in the study who were unemployed or unable to work due to sickness or disability had experienced IPV. 

Sexual IPV (any form of sexual assault that takes place in an intimate relationship) was particularly associated with higher rates of suicidality and self-harm. The study found that women were 10 times more likely than men to have experienced sexual IPV. Women who experienced this type of IPV were seven times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past year than their peers.

This study provides evidence to support an association between IPV and suicidality and self-harm among adults. According to the authors, the findings suggest that service providers may want to ask people with a history of self-harm or suicide risk about IPV. Additionally, interventions to reduce IPV may also be protective against self-harm and suicide.

The authors noted that this study was based on cross-sectional data, so it was unable to establish causality in the way a longitudinal study could, since the study did not establish whether suicidal behavior preceded IPV or occurred as a result of it.  The limited sample size prevented the study from fully analyzing factors such as ethnicity and gender identity. The authors also noted that the data was based on self-reporting, so it is possible that participants underreported experiences of IPV, which may be stigmatized.

McManus, S., Walby, S., Barbosa, E. C., Appleby, L., Brugha, T., Bebbington, P. E., Cook, E. A., Knipe, D. (2022). Intimate partner violence, suicidality, and self-harm: A probability sample survey of the general population in England. Lancet Psychiatry, 9(7), 574-583.