Welcome to the V Word


Today’s edition is a nod to Mental Health Awareness Month.

Today’s question is from a reader,

Shana: “Hi, I was sexually assaulted as a child for several years by my father. While I am away from it now that I am an adult, I still feel depressed and anxious all the time. I still have nightmares and there are times I have thought about suicide. Sometimes I hurt myself just to feel and to get the shame out of my head. I sometimes forget what I am doing and realized I have zoned out for minutes or even hours. I have a partner now who is a good person and loves me but is worried about me. Is this normal? Will I always feel this way?

Yes, Shana, most survivors feel depressed and anxious long after the assault or the abuse has ended. Unfortunately the impact of sexual assault and abuse can continue on and impact your life in many ways. Survivors have many of the following symptoms and they can last for years.

Nightmares, flashbacks or ab-reactions, depression and anxiety, insomnia or hypersomnia (which is sleeping too much), difficulties with your appetite, being easily startled, and difficulties with relationships. Many survivors often think about or attempt suicide. Many survivors often cut on themselves or injure themselves to help distract them from the emotional pain that continues from abuse.

What many people don’t know is that the coping skills needed to help a person survive abuse often becomes counter-effective when the abuse has stopped.

So what that means Shana, is that the hyper-awareness that you needed to develop during your childhood can now disrupt your normal interactions. Difficulties sleeping can add to depression during the day. Dissociating or “zoning out” during abuse is a protective device survivors develop to survive the abuse while it is happening. It can become a habit when anything becomes uncomfortable or stressful after the abuse is over and inhibit you in talking with others or being able to listen. Repressing your feelings is also a way for survivors to help themselves survive abuse. This is why survivors often feel numb long after the abuse has ended. That is why some survivors cut on themselves, to avoid the memories or to make sure they can still feel something.

All these are usual for survivors to feel and can last a long time. But there is help. Trauma counseling is available now from trained therapists and local rape crisis centers have support groups. Nonprofits like Mental Health America can provide you with referral and resources for services in your area. Suicide hotlines are available.

So listeners, to recap.

Sexual assault can have a long-term, even life-time impact on survivors. Statistics reported across various agencies are;

Rape survivors are 13 times more likely to attempt suicide than are people who are not raped.
Rape survivors are six times more likely to attempt suicide than are survivors of other crimes.
25–50% of sexual assault survivors seek mental health treatment as a result of the assault.
8-15% of sexual assault survivors go on to develop chronic post traumatic stress disorder.

Are you a friend, partner or family member of someone who is assaulted? You can help by understanding what a survivor goes through even after the assault has ended. You can help by encouraging the survivor to seek support and counseling if they need it. You can help by going to support groups or counseling with them to learn more about what a survivors needs from their loved ones.

Need help or more information? Here are some options…

To report a sexual assault in the Richmond, Virginia, USA area – call 911 or go to an emergency room.

For information on how to report an assault in the Richmond, Virginia, USA area, you can call the non-emergency line at 804-646-5100 or go by a local police station office. The main Richmond office is located at 200 West Grace Street.

Thinking about suicide? In the Richmond area you can call the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority at 819-4100 that is the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority Crisis services at 819-4100.

Not in the Richmond area? You can call the national suicide prevention lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255 , that is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

For help with counseling and advocacy, local rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters can provide services. In Virginia, USA to find a center closest to you — you can call the Virginia Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline, hosted by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance at 1-800-838-8238. That is 1-800-838-8238

Listening from outside of Virginia? You can call RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network at 1-800-656-HOPE . That is 1-800-656-HOPE

Want to share a story or ask a question? Email me at thevword.radio@gmail.com or tweet me at my twitter account @preventviolence. You can read the transcript for this show and past shows on my blog at http://www.thevword.org

The V Word is recorded in the studios of WRIR-LP 97.3 FM, read and produced by me, Carol Olson.