The mental health of abused mothers may actually worsen before improving even after the end of a violent relationship, reports a new study.
Researchers have found that in the two years after the end of an abusive relationship, mothers showed poorer mental health, became more depressed and maintained high levels of anxiety.
However, abused mothers who had more social support fared better after the end of their relationship than did similar mothers with less help from friends and family.
"Our findings really help us understand how unstable those first few years are for mothers who leave violent or controlling relationships," said Kate Adkins of Ohio State University.
"Even though getting out of the relationship may be good in the long run, they first have to deal with multiple sources of stress, including financial problems, single parenting and sharing custody with the abuser," she said.
Claire Kamp Dush of Ohio State University said: "What our results mean is that these women still need a lot of support and a lot of services even after they leave. Family members and friends may think things are okay because she has left the abuser. But she still needs support and she still needs social services."
The researchers used data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being study, a project of Princeton and Columbia universities.
They used data on about 2,400 mothers who were married to, or co-habiting with, the father of their child at the end of the first year of the three-study.
They separated the mothers into three groups: those who experienced no abuse, those in controlling relationships (in which fathers were extremely critical and insulting, and controlled her actions) and those in physically violent relationships.
Results showed that all women - including those in non-violent relationships who stayed with their partners throughout the study - showed higher levels of depression and anxiety by the end of the three years.
"Research shows that more than a third of women continue to experience physical abuse and 95 percent experience emotional abuse following the end of the relationship. All of this adds to the stress and anxiety they already feel," Adkins said.
However, abused women who had the support of friends and family did not show as much depression and anxiety as did women without that level of support.
"After the relationship ends, that is when these mothers really need the protection and help of their family and friends," Kamp Dush said.
The findings were published in journal Social Science Research.