*Disclaimer: Contains a brief description of sexual assault and descriptions of PTSD.
I am not writing this as a medical article; yes, I’ll describe symptoms and possible treatments for PTSD sufferers, but I am writing this simply to raise awareness of PTSD and highlight how it can affect victims and their relationships. When people think of PTSD, their first thoughts are usually of war veterans who suffer from “shell shock”, horrific flashbacks to terrifying events in combat. However, many people don’t think of the 70% of sexual assault victims who experience anxiety attacks, horrific nightmares and intrusive thoughts after their frightening experience.
When I was fifteen years old I went to a party. There were drinks, music and dancing; a good night as far as any other teenager was concerned. However, at this party there was also a sixteen-year-old boy who would drink too much and then attack me in an alleyway only 50 yards away from where all my friends were. What started as a reluctant kiss for me ended in being forced on the ground with my legs spread as he attempted to enter me. Thankfully a chaperone walked past and saw him on top of me. At the time I was too scared to call out for help, but the idea of “getting caught” gave him a reason to get off me and return to the party. I was left alone and feeling confused, used and dirty.
Here I am five years later, in a three-year long relationship with a man who makes me feel safe, comfortable and loved. Yet why was it that for two of those years the wrong touch or phrasing of words would cause me start shaking and burst into tears? It is because of the actions of that boy at a party, the sexual assault that left me with a mental health condition called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), something which I have now recovered from.
PTSD from sexual assault can affect an individual in many aspects of their life, including their cognition, their physical reactions to stimulus and their emotions. All of these symptoms can have a detrimental effect on the victim’s current and future relationships. For example, experiencing pessimistic views about the future, an extreme drop in their self-esteem, or a complete loss of interest in once-loved activities. Additionally, individuals can experience intense physical or emotional reactions to triggers, such as i feelings of guilt, frightfulness, aggression and anxiety. All of these symptoms make it incredibly difficult to function in a healthy relationship and the affected individual’s partner can also become a victim.
Luckily, there are many things which we can do to help victims of sexual assault who suffer from PTSD. Reducing stigma about the mental health disorder is the first step to helping victims feel comfortable enough to talk about their issues. Talking openly with sufferers at their own pace is the perfect place to start when helping someone recover from PTSD. Moreover, being sensitive to their situation is very important.
Try not to make assumptions about how they feel or question why they might not have acted differently in the situation. Aim to be positive and applaud the small steps the individual takes. For example, praise them for being able to talk about the things that they once couldn’t, or being able to visit places that remind them of the traumatic event.
It is also incredibly important to look out for those close to, or in relationships with, victims of PTSD.
Similarly to other mental health issues, PTSD is very taxing and can be exhausting for those trying to look after victims. Providing continuous support or trying to learn or predict triggers can be exhausting and emotionally draining for loved ones. It is important to remember to look after your own mental health if you are involved with someone who suffers from PTSD, as well as that of the victim.
All in all, it is time to talk about PTSD. It is time to talk about the disorder in all its forms, including the huge percentage of sexual assault victims who are left with repeated terrors after their experiences. It is time to talk to each other, support each other and look after everyone who is affected by PTSD.
If you suffer from PTSD, talk!
If you know someone who you think may suffer from PTSD, talk!
If you don’t know anyone who suffers from PTSD, talk!
At the end of the day, we need to raise awareness and help those who are in need so that everyone can go on to have happy loving relationships in the future, instead of being terrorised by the past.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from PTSD and you want to learn about how you can help them, the mental health charity Mind has a fantastic website. Here you can find lots of information about symptoms, care and support for friends and family. Furthermore, the NHS website provides helpful information if you are looking to learn more about the medical side of the disorder.
by Kathryn Lock