Presentation Title

Psychological Abuse in Romantic Relationships and Associated Mental Health Concerns

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Artist Statement

Intimate partner violence (IPV) continues to be a prevalent health concern, as recent estimates from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) found that 37.3% of women and 30.9% of men in the United States have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime (Smith, Chen, Basile, Gilbert, Merrick, Patel, Walling, & Jain, 2017). While all forms of IPV surveyed occurred at strikingly high rates, the most common form of IPV likely to be experienced over the course of one’s lifetime was psychological aggression, with nearly half of all women (47.1%) and half of all men (47.3%) reporting having experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior by an intimate partner (Smith et al., 2017). Many researchers hypothesize that experiencing psychological abuse in a romantic relationship may be more common than experiencing other forms of IPV because psychological abuse often co-occurs with the presence of physical violence in a relationship and may be likely to occur on its own (Follingstad & Rogers, 2014; Hennings & Klesges, 2003). The experience of psychological abuse in a romantic partnership has been associated with problematic health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and somatic complaints (Rogers & Follingstad, 2014). Due to its high comorbidity with other forms of relationship violence, few empirical studies have examined the impact of psychological abuse alone (without co-occurring physical or sexual abuse) in a romantic relationship on an individual’s health. This presentation will summarize results from a recent study aimed at examining how psychological abuse alone in a romantic relationship was related to an individual’s current mental health symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress) and how this relationship may differ from other experiences of relationship violence.

A sample of 331 college students attending a Northwestern university were invited to complete self-report measures in which they answered questions about their abuse experiences in their “most problematic” romantic relationships and described their current depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress symptoms. A comparison of rates of psychological abuse (88.5%), physical abuse (38%) and sexual abuse (44%) in this sample indicated that college students were more likely to endorse experiencing psychological abuse in their most problematic romantic relationship than other forms of IPV. Analysis of this sample revealed that those who experienced psychological abuse alone in their most problematic romantic relationship reported significantly greater symptoms of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress than those who denied experiencing abuse in their most problematic romantic relationship, while those who experienced multiple forms of abuse (e.g., psychological abuse and physical/sexual abuse) reported the highest levels of mental health symptoms. This presentation will include a discussion of how these results evoke a need to develop and evaluate interventions that are sensitive to the experience of psychological abuse in an intimate partnership as a means of reducing problematic mental health concerns and/or reducing the likelihood of further victimization. Additionally, these results may be helpful in identifying individuals who would benefit from preventative or early intervention strategies.

Mentor Name

Christine Fiore

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Psychological Abuse in Romantic Relationships and Associated Mental Health Concerns

UC 331

Intimate partner violence (IPV) continues to be a prevalent health concern, as recent estimates from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) found that 37.3% of women and 30.9% of men in the United States have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime (Smith, Chen, Basile, Gilbert, Merrick, Patel, Walling, & Jain, 2017). While all forms of IPV surveyed occurred at strikingly high rates, the most common form of IPV likely to be experienced over the course of one’s lifetime was psychological aggression, with nearly half of all women (47.1%) and half of all men (47.3%) reporting having experienced at least one psychologically aggressive behavior by an intimate partner (Smith et al., 2017). Many researchers hypothesize that experiencing psychological abuse in a romantic relationship may be more common than experiencing other forms of IPV because psychological abuse often co-occurs with the presence of physical violence in a relationship and may be likely to occur on its own (Follingstad & Rogers, 2014; Hennings & Klesges, 2003). The experience of psychological abuse in a romantic partnership has been associated with problematic health concerns such as depression, anxiety, and somatic complaints (Rogers & Follingstad, 2014). Due to its high comorbidity with other forms of relationship violence, few empirical studies have examined the impact of psychological abuse alone (without co-occurring physical or sexual abuse) in a romantic relationship on an individual’s health. This presentation will summarize results from a recent study aimed at examining how psychological abuse alone in a romantic relationship was related to an individual’s current mental health symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress) and how this relationship may differ from other experiences of relationship violence.

A sample of 331 college students attending a Northwestern university were invited to complete self-report measures in which they answered questions about their abuse experiences in their “most problematic” romantic relationships and described their current depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress symptoms. A comparison of rates of psychological abuse (88.5%), physical abuse (38%) and sexual abuse (44%) in this sample indicated that college students were more likely to endorse experiencing psychological abuse in their most problematic romantic relationship than other forms of IPV. Analysis of this sample revealed that those who experienced psychological abuse alone in their most problematic romantic relationship reported significantly greater symptoms of depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress than those who denied experiencing abuse in their most problematic romantic relationship, while those who experienced multiple forms of abuse (e.g., psychological abuse and physical/sexual abuse) reported the highest levels of mental health symptoms. This presentation will include a discussion of how these results evoke a need to develop and evaluate interventions that are sensitive to the experience of psychological abuse in an intimate partnership as a means of reducing problematic mental health concerns and/or reducing the likelihood of further victimization. Additionally, these results may be helpful in identifying individuals who would benefit from preventative or early intervention strategies.