Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Reality for Many Survivors of Sexual Abuse

National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month is observed each year in the month of June to recognize the impact that PTSD has on the lives of those who are affected by it. According to the National Center for PTSD, about seven or eight of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are more than twice as likely as men to develop PTSD, and survivors of sexual abuse are particularly at risk.

The National Institute of Mental Health characterizes four types of symptoms of PTSD:

Re-experiencing symptoms:

•    Flashbacks—reliving the traumatic event(s)
•    Physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
•    Bad dreams/nightmares
•    Frightening thoughts

Avoidance symptoms:

•    Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
•    Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event

Sensitivity and reactivity symptoms:

•    Being easily startled
•    Feeling tense or “on edge”
•    Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts

Cognition and mood symptoms:

•    Trouble remembering details of the traumatic event(s)
•    Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
•    Distorted feelings like guilt or blame
•    Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable

PTSD symptoms can occur shortly after a traumatic event or long after. For many childhood sexual abuse survivors, PTSD can be debilitating and can extend into adulthood. Many survivors of sexual abuse who suffer from PTSD do not talk about it because of the stigma that it carries.

In the wake of the Me Too Movement as sexual violence continues to capture the media’s attention, many survivors are struggling quietly with flashbacks, nightmares, and reminders of their own traumatic experiences. It’s time to lift the stigma of mental illness and allow survivors of trauma to fully heal. By raising awareness about PTSD, we give trauma survivors the freedom to seek help without shame.

If you or someone you love is suffering with PTSD, the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine is available to answer your questions at 1-800-950-6264.

If you are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, there is hope. Please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 to speak with a trained counselor.