For individuals who had exposure to parental domestic violence (PDV), complete mental health (CMH) was less common among those with lower social support, a history of substance use disorder, or anxiety. These findings were published in the Journal of Family Violence.

This study was a secondary analysis of the public-use data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey-Mental Health (CCHS-MH) which was a cross-sectional survey focusing on social and economic determinants of mental health. For this analysis, CMH was analyzed as a binary variable comprising the absence of mental illness/substance use disorder in the previous year, emotional well-being, and social/psychological well-being. Achieving CMH was evaluated on the basis of exposure to PDV.

The participants who were (n=326) and were not (n=17,413) exposed to PDV in childhood were aged mean 47.2 (SD, 14.1) and 47.6 (SD, 17.1) years, 63.4% and 50.7% were women (P <.001), 76.3% and 77.5% were White, 52.8% and 65.3% had a postsecondary degree (P <.001), respectively.

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Fewer individuals who were exposed to PDV achieved CMH (62.5% vs 76.1%; P <.001). In addition, exposure to PDV was associated with a lower Social Provisions Scale (mean, 34.8 vs 36.2; P <.001) score and a higher instance of depressive disorder (22.5% vs 9.1%; P <.001), generalized anxiety disorder (15.2% vs 7.1%; P <.001), and substance use disorder (26.8% vs 19.2%; P =.005).

In a correlation analysis, PDV was correlated with anxiety (r, 0.199), substance use (r, 0.123), depression (r, 0.168), and CMH (r, -0.125) and CMH was correlated with depression (r, -0.489), anxiety (r, -0.467), and substance use (r, -0.239).

After controlling for confounders, PDV was associated with lifetime depression (b, 0.56; P =.002), anxiety (b, 0.42; P =.002), substance use disorder (b, 0.34; P =.003), and lower social provisions (b, -1.40; P <.001). These 4 mediators were found to have significant indirect effects, in which depression had the largest effect followed by anxiety, social support, and substance use.

CMH was associated with never having generalized anxiety disorder (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 5.38; 95% CI, 2.49-11.67), not having postsecondary education (aOR, 2.71; 95% CI, 1.52-4.84), never having a substance use disorder (aOR, 2.46; 95% CI, 1.28-4.73), being White or non-Indigenous (aOR, 2.27; 95% CI, 1.15-4.48), and for every Social Provision Scale point (aOR, 1.22; 95% CI, 1.14-1.30).

This study may have been limited by excluding individuals who experienced physical or sexual abuse during childhood, and these findings may not be generalizable for individuals who experienced abuse themselves.

The study authors concluded, “This is, to our knowledge, the first nationally representative study to examine the pathways between exposure to chronic PDV and CMH. It provides a hopeful message to survivors of PDV that more than 3 in 5 achieve optimal mental health despite their exposure to such harrowing experiences in childhood. The study also highlights the need for more research on interventions for mental illness, substance use disorders, and social isolation among those with PDV exposure, with the goal of having a greater proportion of those experiencing childhood adversities obtaining optimal mental health.”


Fuller-Thomson E, Ryan-Morissette D, Attar-Schwartz S, Brennenstuhl S. Achieving optimal mental health despite exposure to chronic parental domestic violence: What pathways are associated with resilience in adulthood? J Fam Viol. Published online April 12, 2022. doi:10.1007/s10896-022-00390-w

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor