Violence and Psychological Well-Being
According to a working paper by Nik Stoop, Murray Leibbrandt and Rocco Zizzamia of the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, “The ‘social causation’ hypothesis posits that circumstances associated with living in poverty — e.g. high levels of stress, malnutrition, social exclusion, lowered capital, exposure to violence — increase the risk of mental illnesses.” Therefore, links exist between poverty, violence and psychological well-being.

Intimate Partner Violence

The links between poverty, violence and psychological well-being are apparent in the case of intimate partner violence.

In Kenya, intimate partner violence is prevalent and the rates of violence toward women are some of the highest globally, according to a 2016 World Bank article. According to the Kenya Demographic Health Survey of 2014, “More than 41% of Kenyan women experience sexual and/or physical violence by intimate partners in their lifetime.” Women have experienced sexual and/or physical violence at the hands of men due to certain stressors.

A World Vision Kenya project initiated a study wherein males reported that stressors such as “unemployment, excessive alcohol and substance use and family difficulties as well as other psychosocial, cultural and gender issues” increase the inclination of violent behavior toward a female spouse. Financial stressors are likely considering that the poverty rate in Kenya stood at 53% in 2018.

The Work of World Vision Kenya

World Vision Kenya in collaboration with the Sexual Violence Research Initiative and World Bank Group Development Marketplace for Innovations to Prevent Gender-Based Violence began an initiative to decrease intimate partner violence in two peri-urban areas of Kenya.

The initiative targeted males with “common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, acknowledging the links between men with mental health problems, alcohol and substance use and high incidences of [intimate partner violence].” The project employed a psychological intervention called Group Problem Management Plus (GPM+) for men with common mental health issues.

Charles Barbuti, an attorney and former New York City Police Department captain, told The Borgen Project that when certain stresses occur, many males feel stuck and helpless and “don’t feel that they have an outlet.” As such, some men turn to violence. The frustrations of unemployment and financial issues and the cultural expectations of a man’s role as the provider contribute negatively to mental well-being. The initiative that World Vision Kenya launched looked to address the links between poverty, violence and psychological well-being.

Psychological Well-Being and Violence

Researchers have comprehensively researched the correlation between poverty, violence and psychological well-being as each factor can be a symptom of the other. One of the many consequences of intimate partner violence is the development of severe psychological issues.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “About two-thirds of women receiving mental health services have experienced intimate partner violence/domestic violence, a number higher than the general population.”

A study published in April 2022 by Claire Bahati and others used data from the 2018 Rwanda Mental Health Survey to identify correlations between intimate partner violence and mental health issues.

Findings from the cross-sectional study revealed that “the prevalence of all types of mental disorders was significantly higher in participants exposed to IPV than in non-exposed (p ≤ 0.001).” Furthermore, the subject group with exposure to intimate partner violence had higher rates of major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder as well as other disorders.

The Low-Income Link

When asked if intimate partner violence is higher in households that are suffering from poverty, Barbuti responded: “It may just be a correlation problem, but it does seem that it is more prevalent in lower-income environments.”

A cross-sectional study titled Income, Gender and Forms of Intimate Partner Violence published in July 2017 looked at the correlation between income and different forms of intimate partner violence among males and females. Data for this study came from the Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy in Brisbane, Australia.

The study found that “relative experiences of almost all forms of IPV (with the exception of physical abuse in males and harassment in females) are highest when both partners report receiving low income.” In addition, the study found that females in lower-income households are most susceptible to physical abuse, emotional abuse and severe combined abuse while males are more susceptible to experiencing harassment and severe combined abuse.

According to the Child Poverty Action Group, “Women in households with low incomes are 3.5 times more likely to experience domestic violence than women in slightly better-off households.” Child Poverty Action Group helps address the stressor of poverty in the U.K. by providing assistance and support to struggling families and children through payments, advice, free school meals and advocacy work.

Looking Ahead

By analyzing the links between poverty, violence and psychological disorders, organizations can address the root cause of the issues and develop more effective initiatives to combat poverty, violence and psychological disorders. Initiatives by organizations such as World Vision Kenya aim to reduce intimate partner violence by addressing stressors and the mental health illnesses associated with such violence.

– Yonina Anglin
Photo: Flickr