Original Articles:Older Women Living with Domestic Violence: Coping Resources and Mental Health and Wellbeing

Anne Lazenbatt, John Devaney


Background Domestic violence represents a serious public health issue for women and their children worldwide. International evidence suggests that women aged over 50 who are victims of domestic violence are suffering in silence because the problem is ignored by professionals and policy makers. More UK research is needed to identify the extent of the problem, and services to meet the needs of older women. Study aims To bridge this gap by seeking to gain a deeper, systematic understanding of how ‘older women’ cope with domestic violence and how it effects their wellbeing, using a theoretical framework of ‘salutogenesis’ to consider coping resources used in lifelong abuse. Methods The study recruited a convenience sample of eighteen older women who are currently, or had been in an abusive relationship. A semi-structured interview schedule was used to discuss the personal nature, of domestic violence in their lives, and the pattern of abuse over time and its effects on their wellbeing, ways of coping and sources of support, barriers to reporting and accessing support, and experiences in seeking help. Results Living in a domestically violent context has extremely negative effects on older women’s wellbeing. Living with a perpetrator of long-term violence is predisposing these women to extremely negative health outcomes such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression. Three-quarters of the women defined themselves as in poor mental health and were using pathogenic coping mechanisms, such as excessive and long-term use of alcohol, prescription and non-prescription drugs and cigarettes. This negative coping increased the likelihood of these women experiencing addiction to drugs and alcohol dependence and endangering their health and wellbeing in the longer term. Conclusions Public health interventions can work well from a ‘salutogenic’ per­spective by finding ways to promote healthy behaviours that increase older women’s sense of wellbeing and coping. The application of this theoretical framework offers the potential for new knowledge to contribute to the discourse about wellbeing in older women dealing with domestic violence.

Keywords: domestic violence; abuse; older women; wellbeing; coping resources; sense of coherence.

Received: November 7, 2013; Accepted: January 15, 2014; Published: April 11, 2014

Corresponding Author: Anne Lazenbatt, BSc (Hons). E-mail: a.lazenbatt@qub.ac.uk.

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