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Be Easy On Yourself: Healing Mental Health and Trauma After a Sexual Assault

Moments of extreme trauma can have life-changing impacts on your mental and emotional health. Immediately following a sexual assault, it’s easy to feel that things will never be the same again.

You will be okay.

The path to recovery takes time and effort. Following the right steps can make dealing with domestic violence or sexual assault easier. This article describes several expert-recommended steps for dealing with sexual assault.

However, it is no substitution for professional help. Consider reaching out to medical and mental health professionals right away to receive valuable guidance during your recovery process.

Reach Out for Support Right Away

The limbic system is the part of your brain that forms your behavioral and emotional responses to external stimuli. Most notably, it is associated with behavior related to survival: the decision to fight or flee, the innate knowledge of how to care for yourself or someone else.

During instances of extreme trauma, the limbic system can become overwhelmed with adrenaline, to the point that your self-care responses become difficult or even impossible to interpret and utilize.

In other words, after experiencing a sexual assault, you may not be in a position to address your own needs. Reaching out to someone — anyone at all — in the moments following the most traumatic event of your life can feel impossibly difficult.

Nevertheless, if you have someone you trust and are willing to seek help, it will be beneficial in the long run. A trusted friend or family member can help you make decisions immediately following the assault that lead to the best long-term outcomes, particularly as you interact with the healthcare and law enforcement systems.

Consider Medical Attention

Not every survivor is ready to go to the hospital in the moments immediately following their assault. Your decision will, of course, ultimately be your own. However, there are important reasons why seeking medical treatment right away can be beneficial.

The sooner you go to the hospital, the better the chances of recovering a DNA sample. Once you take a shower or even go to sleep, the chances of recovering usable samples diminish.

Many assault survivors do not feel ready to file a police report in the hours immediately following the attack. If you feel that way, ask the hospital about your options. Some will be able to freeze the results from your assault kit test so the findings can be submitted to law enforcement later.

Dealing with the healthcare system and law enforcement following a sexual assault may be emotionally challenging. If you have a support system you can rely on, now is a great time to call on it. Having someone with you at the hospital or police station can make things a little easier emotionally.

Explore Your Legal Options

If you are reluctant to file a police report following your assault, you are far from alone. There are many reasons survivors may resist going to the authorities. For many, the idea of sitting in a police station describing their assault repeatedly to a large group of men is enough of a deterrent.

Most survivors (70%) have personal considerations that make them hesitate. Many of them know their assailants and may have friends or family members in common with them.

Survivors worrying about the social or emotional fallout of reporting an assault are far from alone. If you feel this way, consider discussing your options with a trusted friend or family member. You may also find a supportive ear among hospital staff members.

There are many good reasons to report your assault. However, the decision is ultimately only yours. Think it over carefully in the hours immediately following your attack. Making a police report will be difficult, even if you do not know your assailant. However, making a report soon after the incident is the most effective way to ensure that the perpetrator is brought to justice. 

Give Yourself Space to Heal

The desire to forget about your assault can be very strong. Indeed, it makes sense. For most survivors, however, acknowledging what happened and working through it is a crucial part of emotional recovery.

Many, though not all, survivors display symptoms of acute or post-traumatic stress disorder. Essentially, their brains interpret benign circumstances as dangerous, leading to significant stress, anxiety, and depression.

Left untreated, post-traumatic stress disorder can have long-term impacts on your overall quality of life.

Even survivors not suffering from an identifiable mental health condition may benefit from the services of a therapist. Having a sounding board that enables you to express your thoughts and fears is a crucial part of the recovery process. A therapist can make recommendations that might help your recovery or calmly listen to your problems in a way that friends and family may be unable.

Pay Attention to Your Feelings

Many survivors are reluctant to return to their usual routine following an assault. The dichotomy can be tricky to navigate.

On the one hand, returning to normal is a healthy and important step in the recovery process. On the other hand, pushing yourself too far — going to a social outing you aren’t ready for, say — can result in acute stress and anxiety.

Take small steps. Pay attention to how you feel, and only make the decisions you are ready for.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

Contact a Resource Specialist

About the Author: Sarah Daren has been a startup consultant in multiple industries, including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children.

Photo by Engin Akyurt: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-standing-in-front-of-brown-wood-plank-1458826/

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Domestic Violence Awareness Month was first observed in October 1987. It is a time to acknowledge domestic violence survivors and be a voice for its victims. In the 35 years since its inception, much progress has been made to support domestic violence victims and survivors, to hold abusers accountable, and to create and update legislation to further those goals.

The free and confidential National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 to help and support victims of domestic violence.

Call 1.800.799.SAFE (7233)

Text “START” to 88788

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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