Skip to main content

This week saw the launch of important new research into the need for mental health services to deal with the trauma of domestic violence.

This week saw the launch of important new research into the need for mental health services to deal with the trauma of domestic violence: Improving responses to domestic violence in secondary mental health services in Wandsworth, South West London.

The study was carried out by Dr Nadia Mantovani Senior Researcher at St George’s University of London and Dr Ruth Allen, Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Workers (formerly of SWLSTG Mental Health Trust and St George’s University). The research was funded by NHS Wandsworth Clinical Commissioning Group to examine the association between mental health needs and experience of domestic violence and child abuse.

National and international research shows close links between the development of mental health problems and exposure to violence and trauma. It also shows that people with mental health problems are more at risk of experiencing domestic violence and of being repeatedly harmed.

Nationally, reports of domestic violence are on the increase. It can lead to many poor health and social outcomes including complex mental health problems, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and unemployment.

The Wandsworth study looked at the recorded experiences of 342 women and men using South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust services and held focus group discussions with domestic violence survivors as well as mental health and domestic violence practitioners.

Despite the relationship between trauma and mental health problems being well known, information about exposure to domestic violence or child abuse was not routinely gathered by Trust staff. A high percentage (49%) had been exposed to violence or abuse as single or multiple incidents throughout their lives. 32% had experienced child abuse while 19% had past experience and 7% had current risk of domestic violence. Given the lack of routine enquiry, the researchers suggest this could be an underestimate and the extend of actual incidence could be going under the radar.

Overall, women were significantly more likely to have had some violence or abuse in their lives and women were much more likely than men to have experienced sexual or emotional/psychological abuse. People defined as of white ethnicity were significantly more likely than other ethnic groups to have a recorded incidence of child abuse and were also more likely to have past histories of domestic violence.

The study found many barriers for people to access early support both with getting out of abusive situations, and with dealing with the long-term consequences for their mental health. These included: lack of consistency in GP responses, lack of confidence and knowledge amongst mental health staff to open up discussions and a lack of shared awareness of all the services and supports that might be available to people across the Borough from multiple agencies.

On the back of the research, Wandsworth CCG have agreed with South West London and St George’s Trust that they will introduce routine screening into one ward in the Trust (Rose Ward for women) and that staff will receive additional training in domestic violence.

Tom Coffey, Chair of Wandsworth CCG said: “This important and detailed study provides excellent information about the scale of domestic violence and child abuse trauma amongst women and men using mental health services.  We are taking action to start to improve this within the Trust and in partnership with the many agencies and individuals committed to tacking this across the Borough.”