Harm Follows Disability

Violence prevalence rates higher amongst the mentally and physically disabled

February 27, 2012 / Author: 

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(dailyRx News) Across the world, approximately fifteen-percent of people suffer physical or mental disability, yet their impairment does not seem to hinder others from hurting them further. 

On the contrary, those with disability tend to report physical and sexual abuse more often than healthy adults. While these facts are known amongst the medical community, few studies have quantified the risk faced by these individuals.

In an attempt to right these wrongs, the World Health Organization, in conjunction with Liverpool’s Centre for Public Health, reviewed data from thousands of people and discovered that the mentally ill face violence in one out of four cases.

"Be there as support for those facing violence. "

“With a high prevalence of recent violence and risk of violence, individuals with mental illnesses might be at greatest risk,” lead author Karen Hughes, Ph.D., and colleagues write. “Interpersonal difficulties are inherent to many mental illnesses, which increases the vulnerability of people with these illnesses.”

Yet the mentally ill are not the only of the disabled getting abused. Dr. Hughes and her team identified that six-percent of the mentally impaired face violence as well as three-percent of those with non-specific impairments, defined as “physical, mental, emotional, or health problems that restrict activities” such as debilitating injuries.

The study systematically reviewed thirty-one studies on violence—twenty-one focused on providing prevalence information while ten identified risks. All studies included participants reporting violence within one year of the start date and did not include histories of violence.

Their research covered nearly twenty-two thousand people with disabilities, grouping them into five categories for meta-analysis including disability associated with mental illness, intellectual impairments, physical impairments, sensory impairments, as well as non-specific.

Data on those with sensory and physical impairments were scarce, with only one or two studies available to calculate the likelihood of violence, respectively. Those with sensory impairments, such as loss of hearing or sight, were found to face violence in two-percent of cases while data on physical impairments was contradictory. In one study risks were set to zero while another identified prevalence rates at ten-percent.

The review further “pooled prevalence rates according to type of violence” as the data allowed. The overlying term “violence” encompasses physical, sexual, and intimate partner as well as harm done by caregiver, and Hughes’ team drew conclusions based on the data available.

In terms of physical violence, this method of analysis found the mentally ill, intellectually impaired, and non-specifically disabled see risks of harm in twenty-one, ten, and three-percent of cases, respectively. Sexual abuse and violence was not reported in all cases, yet four studies provided an estimate of roughly six-percent risk for the mentally ill.

Three studies covering 574 individuals with mental illness estimated risks of intimate partner violence at nearly forty-percent.

Authors on the study explain, “Findings from this systematic review and meta-analysis show that violence is a major problem in adults with disabilities, who are at an increased risk of violence compared with non­disabled adults.”

Unfortunately, the review also found that little is being done to stop the violence. Many have heard the old adage that the first step is admitting you have a problem, and this report does just that.

If you or someone you love faces violence, its important to talk to somebody in order to facilitate prevention. The U.S. Department of Health provides tips to end violence on one of their websites—number one suggestion being to call the police.

Other tips include supporting the abused, volunteering against abuse, and leading by example. Creating a culture that “rejects violence as a way to deal with problems” communicates the message that physical and sexual abuse will not be taken lightly.

World Health Organization’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability funded this research, available online through The Lancet. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Last Updated:
February 27, 2012