How Intimate Partner Violence Affects Mental Health and Economic Insecurities

Lisa Fedina, PhD, School of Social Work assistant professor, and faculty affiliate at U-M Poverty Solutions, the Injury Prevention Center, the Youth Depression and Suicide Prevention Program, and the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, studies how violence can affect the health of women and transgender adults.

In this episode of Michigan Minds, Fedina provides insight into her research, which explores how intimate partner violence and economic insecurity play a role in the lives of these groups.  

Lisa Fedina, PhD on Michigan Minds

“My research investigates the root causes and consequences of gender-based forms of violence, including the connections between different forms of violence across the life span,” she said. “I draw on perspectives from social work, from public health, and intersectional feminism to develop strategies that hopefully create more equitable health and mental health outcomes, including how we might be able to do this through our current criminal, legal, health care, and social service systems,”

Fedina says studies have found that different forms of violence (e.g., youth violence, teen dating violence, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence) all lead to negative mental health outcomes for survivors and how, many times, the same risk and protective factors are found within the various forms of violence.

“If we can target some of these risk and protective factors, then we might be able to prevent both the risk for depression and suicide among survivors of violence, but also prevent violence from reoccurring again in the future and over the life course.”

During the COVID-19 lockdown, her research involved 1,100 Michigan women and transgender or nonbinary adults 18 years of age or older, who were surveyed on their experiences with physical and sexual violence, psychological victimization, and technology-facilitated intimate partner violence (IPV).

“In this study, we found that two-thirds of survivors—or 10 percent of Michigan women and trans individuals—had experienced IPV of increased severity, meaning that the abuse that they were experiencing got more severe or it got more frequent, or it had started in a new relationship where they had never experienced IPV before,” Fedina said.

Many of the individuals in the study also noted the barriers that kept them from receiving help or utilizing the services they needed. The most-mentioned barriers included fear of their partner, fear of getting COVID-19, and worries about the reduction of capacity of the services available. 

But while these barriers played a large role, economic insecurities also caused significant problems for IPV victims. 

“It’s very well documented that intimate partner violence and sexual violence have significant costs,” she said. “Significant financial costs for survivors as well as for their families and for communities as a whole.” 

Some of the economic hardships faced included missed rent or mortgage payments, health care insecurities (e.g., missed doctor visits, or prescriptions left unfilled), food insecurity, and phone and internet insecurity. 

“These findings highlight the need for housing and rental support for populations most in need of safe and stable housing. Expanding accessible and affordable health care options can really enhance the safety and well-being of survivors and increase opportunities for providers to screen for IPV and to link survivors with needed social, economic, and legal services,” Fedina said.

In addition to her research on intimate partner violence, Fedina also teaches a  massive open online course (MOOC), which was created with the help of a grant from the U-M’s Center for Academic Innovation. 

“This MOOC focuses on intimate partner violence, looking at or specifically teaching to interprofessional strategies for prevention and response,” Fedina says. “As the faculty lead of this course, I initiated a partnership between the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland to co-develop this course together across our two institutions. We have contributions in this course from over 20 faculty members, as well as practitioners and survivors of IPV.”

The course, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV): Interprofessional Strategies for Prevention and Response, is free and available to learners globally on Online.UMich.Edu.

Moving forward, Fedina hopes that violence and its associated negative economic and mental health outcomes can be mitigated by enacting policies that can help promote affordable housing and health care, and that will also focus on targeting inequities in the population.

At the conclusion of her podcast, Fedina shares advice with listeners. 

“I would just suggest that if somebody you know is struggling, if somebody has shared their story with you, believe them and listen to them without judgment,” she says. “Let them know what has happened to them was not their fault. Share identity-affirming resources with them.

“If you’re in need of some additional resources or information on gender-based violence as well as suicide and suicide prevention, I would encourage folks to check out the Organization of Futures Without Violence, which is a great national organization that has a ton of resources online for practitioners in many different fields on how they might be able to get involved and address intimate partner and sexual violence in their work.”