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What the courts need to know about mental health diagnoses of abused women


Abused women may appear before the courts because of family or criminal matters. It is not uncommon for an abused woman to be diagnosed as having a mental health condition, including a mental disorder. In this paper, the implications of the use of mental health diagnoses in the court system is considered. The diagnostic criteria in the DSM-IV and ICD-10 classification systems is discussed and the additional information needed by the courts to interpret the behaviour and thought processes of abused women is examined. This other information includes: whether the abuse is continuing and the likely impact of its continuance, diagnosis and prognosis, as well as the woman's survival strategies, her coping mechanisms, her support systems, and the severity of the physical and/or psychological abuse. This information needs to be stated within the context of what is currently known about abuse, including up-to-date knowledge about its epidemiology (e.g., prevalence, physical and psychological manifestations, and complex psychological responses). Information about other intervening factors is essential for the courts; and in order to present meaningful testimony on these factors, it is critical for clinicians to have a thorough understanding of the complex dynamics of spousal abuse.



Kaiser A, Strike C, Ferris LE. Med Law. 2000; 19(4):737-51.

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