May is Mental Health Month. And when you are part of the movement to end sexual violence, you can’t help but intersect with mental health. It’s a cyclical relationship. People with a range of mental health issues are at greater risk of experiencing sexual violence, and people who experience sexual violence are at a greater risk of having mental health issues.
Some in the sexual assault movement would not want this connection to be made—especially the later. There are certainly legitimate reasons for this—with a mental health diagnoses comes a whole lot more, specifically the stigma of being “crazy”, “looney”, “nuts” and the list goes on and on. Many advocates do not want mental illness listed as a result of experiencing sexual violence, but it’s undeniable.
The chances that a woman will develop Post-traumatic Stress Disorder after being raped are between 50 and 95 percent. Population Reports: Ending Violence Against Women, 2000.
Childhood sexual abuse was significantly associated with dissociation. Both sexual abuse and dissociation were independently associated with several indicators of mental health disturbance, including risk-taking behavior (suicidality, self-mutilation, and sexual aggression). Kisiel, Cassandra and Lyons, John. Dissociation as a Mediator of Psychopathology Among Sexually Abused Children and Adolescents. American Journal of Psychiatry. 158: 1034-1039. 2001
Girls who are raped are about three times more likely to suffer from psychological disorders and over four times more likely to suffer from drug and alcohol abuse in adulthood. Medical College of Virginia Commonwealth University, 2000
Sexual assault is also closely associated with depression and anxiety disorders.“Population Reports: Ending Violence Against Women”, December 1999, Series L, Number 11. Population Information Program, Center for Communication Programs. The Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland.
But, in honor of mental health month, let’s not hide from the connection between sexual violence and mental health. It’s there, and that is okay. It is normal to experience psychological trauma after a traumatic event. The trauma may lead to a diagnosis, and that too is okay.
Mental health issues are curable. Recovery is possible. Victims can recover from mental illness just as they move from victim to survivor.
So, sometime this month, read a book, check out a website, and learn more about mental health.
One great place to start is the Pennsylvania Mental Health Consumers' Association (PMHCA), a statewide member organization providing information, referrals and supports to people who are receiving services or in recovery from a mental illness in Pennsylvania. www.pmhca.org.