Scheme: Newton International Fellowships
Organisation: University of Bristol
Dates: Jan 2012-Jan 2014
Summary: Research area: neuroscience and psychology. My current study looks at the biological effect of domestic violence and abuse (DVA) on women's mental health. DVA is a common and hidden problem for women attending general practice. A full-time general practitioner sees at least one currently abused woman each week, although the patient may not disclose DVA. Abused women are more likely to develop long-term mental health conditions, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. However the mechanisms through which DVA ‘gets under the skin’ are very poorly understood. Similar to other demands, abuse activates the biological stress system, which produces chemical cortisol. Cortisol levels increase in response to short-term demand and help organisms deal with it by changing the processes of getting energy from food and also mental function. However constant increase of cortisol levels can cause damage and accelerate mental disease.
We will recruit both abused and non-abused women to measure their cortisol levels in saliva as well as carrying out a survey on their mental health and DVA experience.
Results of the study will increase our understanding of the biological mechanisms of abuse impact on a woman's mental health. It will also inform researchers and practitioners about why one woman may be more susceptible to abuse-related mental health conditions than another in order to find more targeted treatments. By measuring cortisol before and after the treatment practitioners will be able to evaluate its effectiveness and predict outcomes. Both abused women and DVA specialists will be better supported in health issues in courts.