How to Care for Your Mental Health After Sexual Assault
Sexual assault may have long-term health effects, both mental and physical. Getting help as soon as possible can help you deal with or prevent these effects. But even if time has passed since your assault, it’s never too late to seek help and take care of your mental health.
No matter the circumstances, it’s important to remember that sexual assault is not your fault. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted, period — no matter what you were wearing or even if you were under the influences of drugs or alcohol, said Cheryl Iglesia, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., director of MedStar Washington Hospital Center’s Section of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery.
“The fact that a woman is drunk or intoxicated does not give you permission to rape her,” Dr. Iglesia told HealthCentral.
When you seek medical care following sexual assault, a health care professional should also connect you with resources and people who can provide counseling and follow-up care.
Even if you haven’t been physically injured, sexual assault can leave you feeling emotionally traumatized. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), victims of assault may experience physical and psychological reactions, including:
- Pain throughout the body
- Trouble eating and sleeping
- Depression and anxiety
- Feelings of fear, anger, guilt, humiliation, embarrassment, and self-blame
- Mood swings
- Flashbacks, nightmares, and phobias related to your assault
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
These feelings are normal responses. Getting help early in this process can help prevent long-term and persistent physical and mental health issues related to the assault, according to ACOG.
One reason why sexual assault victims may not seek help is because they feel shame, Dr. Iglesia told HealthCentral. Additionally, victims may fear that the public will find out about what happened, or that no one will believe them. But seeking help after this traumatic event is an important step toward healing.
How to Get Help
Counseling is one way to get emotional support. There are different kinds of counseling, including traditional “talk” therapy, group therapy, or support groups. A therapist can provide a safe space to help you work through your challenges and process your emotions. They also can teach you helpful coping strategies.
To find a therapist near you, you can call your insurance company or visit their website to get a list of health care professionals covered by your plan, or you can search for a local treatment center on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website. Many therapists specialize in treating sexual assault survivors.
In addition to counseling, a health care professional may also be able to prescribe you antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications in certain situations to help with emotional and psychologic problems following sexual assault.
You also can find sexual assault service providers near you, including individual and group counseling options, on the website of RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, or by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4653).
For more information on getting health care after sexual assault, see the following articles: