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Sexual and Physical Abuse of Chronically Ill Psychiatric Outpatients Compared with a Matched Sample of Medical Outpatients


The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease: July 2000 - Volume 188 - Issue 7 - p 440-445

Because there are few controlled studies, we aimed to determine the prevalence of sexual and physical abuse reported by psychiatric outpatients compared with matched controls. The sample consisted of 158 outpatients with major mental disorders including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who responded to a semi-structured interview (response rate = 64.8%) and who were individually matched for gender, age, and ethnicity with 158 outpatients who had never been treated for psychiatric illness. They answered questions about whether and when they had ever been sexually or physically abused, and about the type and circumstances of abuse. Abuse was more common during adulthood (16 years or older); 45 psychiatric patients (28.5%) were sexually abused and 43 (27.3%) were physically abused. Compared with the controls, patients were significantly more likely to report a history of sexual or physical abuse during adulthood (χ2 = 5.15, df = 1, p = .02; χ2 = 4.09, df = 1, p = .04 respectively). During adulthood, female patients were significantly more likely to be sexually and physically abused than male patients, and those sexually abused were significantly more likely to report a history of sexual abuse during childhood. However, patients were not significantly more likely to report a history of sexual or physical abuse during childhood compared with the controls. These findings demonstrate that psychiatrically ill patients are vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse during adulthood and underscore psychiatrists' responsibility to routinely inquire about abuse experiences.

1 Department of Psychiatry & Behavioural Science, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92-019, Auckland, New Zealand. Send reprint requests to Dr Coverdale.

Dr. Coverdale is currently affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Baylor College of Medicine, One Baylor Plaza, Houston, Texas 77030.

This study was funded by The Auckland Medical Research Foundation.

The authors thank the research nurses for helping with data collection, Dr, John Read for his comments, and Mr. Alistair Stewart for his statistical advice.

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.