Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a clinical term for a group of symptoms experienced by people who have undergone trauma. PTSD usually occurs within three months of a traumatic experience, but sometimes can present years after the incident. After a traumatic event, it is typical to have feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear, making it difficult to adjust or cope for some time afterwards. In particular, survivors of sexual assault may experience severe feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear, known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
While it is natural to have some of these symptoms after the traumatic event such as a sexual assault, if they last more than a few weeks and become an ongoing problem, it might be PTSD. If left untreated, the symptoms of PTSD can grow worse and last for months or even years. Regardless, all sexual assault survivors do not have PTSD. Some people will have PTSD after a traumatic experience, and some will not experience any symptoms at all. This article will help educate you on how to deal with PTSD and Sexual Assault and provide tips on how to get help.
• get help right away by a medical health professional
• listen and talk
• understand the symptoms of PTSD and a sexual assault
• know your treatment options
• take care of yourself
• ever ignore the symptoms of PTSD
• blame yourself
• get discouraged
• forget to reach out in your community for help
Do get help right away by a medical health professional
If you have experienced a sexual assault, it is important to take action right away. Although the pain of sexual assault is profound, it is important to remember that victims do heal. The healing process will be smoother if you seek assistance from someone such as an ER nurse, doctor, a psychologist or a victim advocate, someone who has experience talking and treating sexual assault victims. Tell someone you trust what has happened; do not struggle with it alone. It is important to seek medical attention to get examined for STD’s and/or pregnancy within 24 hours of the sexual assault.
Do listen and talk
Since you will be experiencing many emotions at once after a sexual assault, it is important to not do this alone. Listen to your body and listen to what you are thinking and find a trusted person and talk to them. A trusted person can help reinforce the message that you were not to blame for what happened. It will be important to remember that you may be sensitive to new fears and behaviors associated with the assault (such as avoiding crowds or feeling unsafe in previously comfortable locations). All of this is normal. If you are unable to talk to a loved one, seek professional help from a psychologist.
Do understand the symptoms of PTSD and a sexual assault
As classified by the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of PTSD can be grouped into three main categories:
Re-Experiencing This is a repeated reliving of the event, and interferes with daily activity. This category includes flashbacks, frightening thoughts, recurrent memories or dreams, and physical reactions to situations that remind you of the event.
Avoidance These symptoms stem from the desire of a person to change their routine to escape similar situations to the trauma. Victims might avoid places, events, or objects that remind them of the experience. Emotions related to avoidance are numbness, guilt, and depression. Some have a decreased ability to feel certain emotions, like happiness. They also might be unable to remember major parts of the trauma, and feel that their future offers less possibilities than other people have.
Hyper-arousal Hyper-arousal symptoms are all physiological. They include difficulty concentrating or falling asleep; being easily startled; feeling tense, and ‘on edge’; and angry outbursts. These can sum up to make it difficult for victims of PTSD to complete normal daily tasks.
Do know your treatment options
There are a range of treatment options for patients suffering from PTSD. Everyone is different, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. The type of therapy that may be best for a patient depends on a number of factors that s/he and the health care professional can discuss.
1. Cognitive therapy - This form of “talk therapy” helps patients to identify and change self-destructive thought patterns.
2. Cognitive behavior therapy - CBT combines cognitive and behavioral therapy to help patients identify unhealthy beliefs/behaviors, and replace them with positive ones.
3. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)-EMDR combines exposure therapy with a series of guided eye movement that help patients process traumatic memories.
4. Exposure therapy-This form of behavioral therapy helps patients safely confront the memories or things that are upsetting or distributing, so that they can learn to cope effectively.
5. Medications-Several types of medications can help symptoms of PTSD such as depression, anxiety, sleep problems, concentration.
6. Support Groups - This may be in the form of a formal psychotherapy group or an informal support group which may help in many ways such providing support and comfort, reassurance of not being alone, and a safe place to talk about what happened.
Do take care of yourself
In addition to receiving professional help, it’s important for persons with PTSD due to a sexual assault to take good care of themselves:
• Sleep between 7-8 hours every night
• Eat a well balanced diet
• Exercise regularly
• Avoid making situations that could cause anxiety, anger or irritability
• Seek support from family and friends
• Avoid alcohol, illegal drugs and medication that is not prescribed
• Be patient with yourself, it will take time to heal
Do not ever ignore the symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD are real and serious. Many individuals will feel a loss of control and feel hopeless which may lead to thoughts of suicide. These types of feelings should always be taken seriously and addressed right away by calling 911 or going to your nearest emergency room.
Do not blame yourself
Don't play the blame game over what has occurred. Know that you are not alone, unfortunately sexual assault is common, statistics range depending on which research is cited but it is more common than what people think. After a sexual assault, you may feel shock, embarrassment, shame, guilt, disbelief, anger, anxiety or nothing at all. These are all normal reactions to a violent crime that has occurred to you. Similarly, sometimes months or even years after an assault, survivors re-experience feelings they had immediately following the attack. No matter what remember - it was not your fault.
Do not get discouraged
Continue to listen to yourself and seek support no matter how vulnerable you feel, isolation will only make things worse. Some days will be more difficult than others, don't get discouraged, continue to work through it day by day. Be patient with yourself.
Do not forget to reach out in your community for help
Women's shelters, police departments, attorney's offices, and doctors offices all have places you can be referred to or talk to someone immediately following a sexual assault. You can also check hospitals, multicultural associations, women's centers, local community health centers, telephone crisis lines, lawyer referral services, legal aid offices, public health nurses, social workers, psychologists just to name a few resources in the community to get more information and help from.
If you have experienced a sexual assault, it is important to take action right away. Although the pain of sexual assault is profound, remember victims do heal. The healing process will be smoother if you seek assistance from someone, a therapist or a victim advocate, who has experience talking to sexual assault victims. Tell someone you trust what has happened; do not struggle with it alone.
Remember not everyone who experiences a sexual assault will get PTSD. Diagnosis is best left in the hands of a medical professional such as a psychologist. Coming to a conclusion of PTSD usually occurs because of the presence of the symptoms listed in this article, the duration of those symptoms, as well as psychiatric and physical testing to rule out other diagnoses. Getting treatment as soon as possible after PTSD symptoms develop maybe prevent the disorder from becoming a long-term condition. It is important to be treated by a medical professional such as a psychologist with knowledge of PTSD.
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