Women who experience domestic violence have long-term physical and mental health problems, according to researchers from the University of Newcastle.

The researchers tracked three generations of women for 16 years.

Professor Deborah Loxton, from the Research Centre for Generational Health and Ageing and Hunter Medical Research Institute Public Health Program, said domestic violence can lead to poor mental health, including long-term depression and anxiety.

“Domestic abuse is also associated with a higher prevalence of chronic pain and headaches, cervical cancer, chronic disease, and problems with physical function that affect quality of life,” Professor Loxton said.

“Many people don’t realise that stressful life events impact physical health as well as mental health. It’s vital for clinicians and healthcare workers to understand that these women’s health issues are real, and that they are long lasting.”

Indigenous females are 35 times more likely to experience domestic and family violence than non-Indigenous Australian women, according to figures quoted in The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010 – 2022.

The new research paper by Professor Loxton’s team is the first to investigate the health impacts of domestic violence over a long period. The researchers followed 16,761 participants in the Women’s Health Australia study.

The three groups of women, born from 1921-1926, 1946-1951 and 1973-1978, were asked whether they had ever been in a violent relationship and answered regular surveys assessing their physical and mental health.

The researchers found that as the groups aged the women’s physical function and general health decreased and their bodily pain increased, however the physical health of women who experienced domestic violence was consistently worse.

Overall, women’s mental health steadily improved with age, but women who experienced abuse had consistently worse mental health than those who had not.

“One of the interesting findings was that poor mental health was a risk factor in women entering into abusive relationships, as well as being a consequence of abuse,” Professor Loxton said. “This indicates that appropriate mental health care can play a role in the prevention of domestic violence.

Professor Loxton said interventions and support available to women are frequently for the immediate crisis period.

“Unfortunately, the reality for one in four Australian women is that the physical and mental health impacts of domestic violence could last a lifetime,” she said. “We need policies and interventions in place to provide support for the women who are still feeling the impact 10 or 20 years later.”

 Aboriginal women from town camps in Alice Springs will take to the streets on July 11 to march against domestic violence in a move they hope will be a catalyst for change around Australia.