May is Mental Health Awareness Month. About 1 in 5 adults experiences some type of mental illness in a given year in the U.S. Sexual assault survivors are included in those numbers and often feel the mental health effects years after an assault. Although a survivor can eventually come to terms with their past and sometimes even receive legal justice, little can protect these men and women from the negative effects on their mental health.
During the month of May, we acknowledge the burden placed on the mental health of sexual assault survivors’ and those who have experienced domestic and dating violence of any kind. These traumas can impact individuals with different forms of mental illness. Spreading awareness of everyone living with a mental illness and specifically survivors is incredibly important to altering the stigma on both sexual assault and mental illness, as well as pressing for change in our society and culture.
The Impact on Mental Health
Mental Health America shares overviews of symptoms for a number of illnesses:
Do not feel alone if you are experiencing symptoms of any of these illnesses. Victims of sexual assault are at a higher risk for developing a mental illness. This is why seeking help after the trauma is important in an attempt to cope with emotions and avoid isolation.
If you have a friend or family member that has recently been a victim of sexual assault or developed a mental illness, make sure they know you are there as a support system. If they are uncomfortable with talking about the subject, stay informed on professional resources for both victims and those with a mental illness. Take a look at RAINN’s “Tips for Talking with Survivors of Sexual Assault” for advice on how to open a dialogue and offer continued support.
Survivors with Mental Illness
“When you don’t express experiencing sexual assault … nobody can help you. No one knows what you’re going through, and you can suffer in silence. And [that] makes the depressive symptoms even worse.” - Anonymous Survivor, excerpt from “The Silent Lives of Childhood Sex Abuse Survivors in America’s South Asian Diaspora”
“I am a successful businesswoman, a mom of three great kids, daughter, sister, friend… and I am a sexual assault survivor with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It took me a long time to be able to say those words.” - Kim Pizzella, excerpt from “How I Rose From the Shame of Sexual Assault and PTSD”
“Sometimes you will feel like it is pointless. A lot of the time it will make you want to cry. Often you will feel like giving up. Take the time to cry, but don’t give up. It is not impossible. And with the right support team, therapy and a lot of prayer, you can start to see beauty in the broken pieces.” - Summer Collins, excerpt from “The Truths I’ve Come to Notice in the Aftermath of Rape”
“Some days I have to talk something through with my therapist by phone in between sessions. Some days I say all the bad words and make up some of my own. Some days I need to have a dance party in the kitchen to remind myself of all the light in my life. Every day I get out of bed again, because this life — even when it’s hard — was never ruined.” - Shannon Dingle, excerpt from “To Anyone Who Assumes a Rape Survivor’s Life is ‘Ruined’”
If you or someone you know needs help, here are a few resources: