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Women with severe mental-health issues are four times more likely to be in abusive relationships than women without a disability, according to a Canadian study.

Of 6,851 women who were interviewed for the 2009 General Social Survey, Women's College Hospital researcher Janice Du Mont and co-author Tonia Forte found nearly 45 per cent of women with severe mental-health issues also reported experiencing various kinds of "discrimination," whether linked to their ethnicity, culture, race, colour or religion.

That contrasts with 15 per cent of women without a mental-health disability who felt they had been discriminated against in the past five years. The study – published in the journal BioMed Central Public Health – also found that as the severity of the mental-health condition escalates, so too does the prevalence of intimate-partner violence.

In an interview, Du Mont added that women in the mental-health spectrum in the study (which considered any psychological, emotional, or mental-health conditions that impacted the women's ability to carry out their day-to-day lives) also were found to come from lower-income households and have substantially lower levels of trust toward family, friends, workmates. They also feel a weaker sense of belonging in their community compared with their counterparts with no mental-health disabilities.

"For women with a mental-health-related disability, the consequences of experiencing discrimination can be devastating," Du Mont said. "It may lead to social isolation and put these women at greater risk for harmful or abusive relationships, discouraging them from seeking help from their abusive relationship and their mental-health problems."

She added that partner violence – whether physical, sexual, emotional or financial – often recurs.

"Women whose daily activities were limited by a psychological, emotional or mental-health condition may be especially vulnerable to being victimized," said Du Mont, an advocate for earlier intervention and prevention strategies to better target and help women with mental-health issues.

"If you prevent intimate-partner violence – which should be our goal worldwide – you can substantially reduce the global mental-health burden," which is onerous and costs billions. "Partner violence is the most common violence again women, which is why it's been described as a global pandemic."

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