Sexual Assault Linked To Increased Risk Of Mental Health Issues
Anxiety disorder is not caused by a biological, chemical, or genetic problem. Anxiety disorder is caused by using overly apprehensive behavior. This unhealthy behavior typically develops during our formative years, and in many cases, as a result of experiencing early life trauma, such as sexual assault.
When we experience early life trauma, as children, we try to cope with these difficult experiences the best we can and based on the coping strategies we learned as children. If our parents taught us healthy coping strategies, or if we received professional help to deal with these difficult experiences, we’ll use healthy strategies to move forward in life.
If, however, we weren’t taught healthy coping strategies and didn’t receive professional help to deal with traumatic experiences, we make up our own coping strategies, which then shape our behavior. Generally, these coping strategies and resulting behaviors are of the unhealthy variety, which can set us up for issues with anxiety, such as becoming overly cautious, become worriers, fear the unknown, worry that calamity could be around every corner, develop issues with trust (which can adversely affect our relationships) develop issues with guilt, avoid potentially dangerous situations and people, develop a disdain for uncertainty, develop issues with self-esteem, become hypersensitive to risk and danger, and so on.
Furthermore, we can adopt a pessimistic and helpless view of life, which is often at the root of depression. As we get older, victims of trauma have a higher tendency to turn to recreational drugs as a way of trying to cope with life and its risks and uncertainties. Experiencing early life trauma, such as sexual assault (abuse), is a common underlying factor of anxiety (and depression, and many other mental health issues).
How prevalent is early life trauma?
In an online poll we conducted a few years ago, 60 percent of respondents said they experienced some form of abuse when growing up.
According to recent statistics, one in three children in Canada experienced some form of abuse in 2014. And these are just from the reported cases. Many instances of abuse go unreported. Moreover, many people aren’t aware of what abuse is and its many forms. In our work, we regularly see early life trauma, such as abuse, as an underlying factor to overly apprehensive behavior.
While experiencing abuse is tragic and more needs to be done to prevent it, fortunately, we can overcome the effects of abuse through therapy and making healthy behavioral change. Of course, the sooner it is addressed, the better off we are. Addressing early life trauma while still young produces excellent results. Doing this work at any age, however, can set us free from the effects of trauma and from the unhealthy behaviors that result. While this work is seldom easy, we can experience meaningful and lasting results through accessing good information, getting professional help and support, and with time. Many of us at anxietycentre.com have done this work as part of our own journey to anxiety disorder-free health.
If you want help in overcoming anxiety disorder, depression, or the effects of early life trauma, many of our recommended therapists are equipped and ready to help.
If you have a child who has experienced early life trauma, or is experiencing anxiety or depression issues, Marie Sherwood, one of our recommended psychotherapists, is well trained in helping children (and parents) overcome these types of issues. Again, the sooner we get help, the better off we are.
Below is a press release of a recent study that found a link between sexual assault and the development of mental health issues:
Increased risk of suicide, mental health conditions linked to sexual assault victimization
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- An analysis of nearly 200 independent studies involving more than 230,000 adult participants finds that having been sexually assaulted is associated with significantly increased risk of anxiety, depression, suicidality, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder.
The analysis, reported in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, represents a summary of 40 years of research on the subject.
"We compared people who had been sexually assaulted with those who hadn't and found a significant difference in mental health," said Emily Dworkin, who conducted the study as a graduate student with University of Illinois psychology professor Nicole Allen. "We also compared people who had been sexually assaulted with people who had experienced other forms of trauma and found that the difference was still there, suggesting that sexual assault is associated with significantly increased risk for these mental health conditions as compared with other types of trauma."
The association between sexual assault and mental health conditions was generally apparent across studies, regardless of how researchers defined sexual assault, Dworkin said. Some studies only examined forced assault, others included coercion or incapacitation, while others included any unwanted sexual contact.
"It doesn't seem to matter how broadly or narrowly you define sexual assault -- if you're only looking at penetrative forms of assault or if you're also including people who experienced assaults limited to fondling -- the association is still there," Dworkin said.
About 24 percent of participants across studies had been victims of a sexual assault, the researchers report.
The analysis also found that adults who had experienced a sexual assault were at higher risk of some mental health problems than others. The risk of contemplating or attempting suicide, for example, was highest relative to other conditions. The risks of PTSD, obsessive-compulsive conditions and bipolar conditions were almost as high as those for suicidality.
"We often think of obsessive-compulsive conditions and bipolar conditions as more biological or genetic in origin," Dworkin said. "While these findings are based on a smaller number of studies, they suggest that maybe those conditions are more trauma-related than we previously thought."
The risk of mental disorders associated with sexual assault was consistent regardless of the age, race or gender of the participants in a study, the researchers found. The analysis also suggests that having been assaulted by a stranger or by someone using a weapon "appears to be associated with more risk of mental health consequences," Dworkin said.
Not all sexual assault survivors experience mental health problems after an assault, the researchers said. The analysis suggests only that sexual assault survivors are at higher risk.
"Just because you've had this experience doesn't mean you will have a negative mental health effect," Allen said. "But if you do, our findings demonstrate that you are most definitely not alone. These are not uncommon responses to sexual assault."
"I want to emphasize that conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidality, depression and anxiety disorders are very treatable, and they're often treatable within the course of a few months," said Dworkin, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington. "As a clinician, I see such tremendous benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy for people who have experienced a sexual assault. They say that they feel like they got their lives back."
Disclaimer: anxietycentre.com is not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted at anxietycentre.com by contributing institutions or for the use of any information throughout anxietycentre.com's system.
The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder coach, counselor, or therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.
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Authors: Jim Folk, Marilyn Folk, BScN. Last updated July 21, 2018.