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Receiving threatening or obscene messages from a partner and mental health, self-harm, and suicidality: results from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey

McManus, S. ORCID: 0000-0003-2711-0819, Bebbington, P. E., Tanczer, L. , Scott, S. & Howard, L. M. (2021). Receiving threatening or obscene messages from a partner and mental health, self-harm, and suicidality: results from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology: the international journal for research in social and genetic epidemiology and mental health services, 58(12), pp. 1749-1759. doi: 10.1007/s00127-021-02113-w


Threatening or obscene messaging is repeated, unwanted texts, emails, letters or cards experienced by the recipient as threatening or obscene, and causing fear, alarm or distress. It is rarely examined as an aspect of intimate partner violence. We describe the prevalence of exposure to threatening/obscene messaging from a current or ex-partner; characteristics of victims; and associations with other forms of violence and abuse, mental disorder, self-harm, and suicidality.

Cross-sectional probability-sample survey of the general population in England aged 16 + . Multivariable regression modelling tested associations between receipt of threatening/obscene messaging and current common mental disorder, past-year self-harm and suicidality.

Threatening/obscene messages were received from a current/ex-partner by 6.6% (95%CI: 5.9–7.3) of adults who had been in a relationship; 1.7% received these in the past year. Victims were more likely to be female, under 35, single or divorced, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and to have experienced other forms of sexual and partner violence and abuse. Those who received threatening/obscene messages in the past year were more likely to experience common mental disorder (adjusted odds ratio 1.89; 1.01–3.55), self-harm (2.31; 1.00–5.33), and suicidal thoughts (2.00; 1.06–3.78).

Threatening/obscene messaging commonly occurs in the context of intimate partner violence. While often occurring alongside sexual and physical violence, messaging has an additional association with mental disorder and suicidality. Routine enquiry in service settings concerning safety, including those working with people who have escaped domestic violence, should ask about ongoing contact from previous as well as current partners. This should include asking about messaging, as well as other forms of potentially technology-enabled abuse which may become increasingly common.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: Intimate partner violence, Emotional abuse, Cyber bullying, Threat, Mental health, Self-harm, Suicidality
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
SWORD Depositor:
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