Sexual Abuse

There are many forms of sexual violations, all of which are abusive and often result in sexual trauma.  Two major delineations exist:  childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual violence.  All acts under these two categories are considered sexual violence, especially if these are non-consensual or have been committed under duress.

Both childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual violence is further categorised as:

  1. Contact abuse — range of which includes sexual touching to outright rape.  Contact sexual violence may encompass completed or attempted penetration involving any of these parts: penis, vagina, anus, and mouth.  It can also involve sexual touching of the breasts, genitals, groin, inner thighs, buttocks, or anus.
  1. Non-contact abuse — may involve forced participation in pornography, exhibitionism, and inappropriate modelling of sexually provocative clothes or behaviour. Non-contact abuse or violence is usually voyeuristic and can include verbal and behavioural harassment.

Sexual abuse or violence is considered a childhood tragedy if the victim is under 18 years of age at the time the crime was committed.  Adult sexual violence refer to victims who are 18 years or older.

Psychological Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse

child-sexual-abuse-stats_001

Mental disorders often follow sexual abuse, particularly when the individuals in question are children.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common result among sexually molested children who because of a traumatic event or a series of them, experience terrifying feelings of extreme fear, helplessness, shame, and worthlessness.  These victims often exhibit negative coping symptoms such as numbness, lack of responsiveness, paranoia on perceived threats, and recurring nightmares.  As such a number of such patients additionally suffer from depression, anxiety disorder, substance abuse, and eating disorders.  Many may have suicidal thoughts and intentions as well.  These symptoms may impair an individual’s quality of life, making him unable to hold a job, get work, maintain relationships with friends and family, or do everyday tasks requiring some form of social contact.

Sexually abused children may grow up to be either sexually inhibited adults or highly promiscuous ones.  Because of repeated early exposure to sexual abuse, promiscuity may be patterned after the behaviour of the sexual abuser or perpetrator.  Those however who develop frigidity or low sexual drive may have difficulty entering into and maintaining close relationships.

Individuals who have been particularly severely sexually abused in their early years may develop Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).  BPD is a difficult mental condition to treat and is characterised by maladjusted and immutable personality traits.  People afflicted with BPD often exhibit suicidal symptoms and have the propensity for self-harm, substance abuse, unsafe sex, and the like.

Unfortunately, survivors of childhood sexual abuse may develop both BPD and PTSD which some classify as complex PTSD.  People with complex PTSD may be plagued by extreme mood swings, unexplained physical pain, symptoms that defy medical explanation, and altered states of consciousness.  They may also exhibit other personality disorders characterised by extreme paranoia (Paranoid Personality Disorder); extreme shyness and a huge inferiority complex (Avoidant Personality Disorder); or the extreme need for admiration and lack of empathy (Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

Psychological Effects of Adult Sexual Violence

sexual-violence

Adult victims may develop short-term and long-term psychiatric symptoms.  PTSD symptoms such as sleeping problems, emotional numbness, and panic attacks can show a short time after the traumatic event but may taper off in severity after a few months.  There are, however, survivors that live with PTSD symptoms for years.

Research however has focused mostly on PTSD as the psychological repercussion of adult sexual violence.  Other disorders may be overlooked such as clinical depression; Body Dysmorphic Disorder characterised extreme attention to physical faults; or compulsory body mutilations such as excessive body piercing and tattooing.

How well adult survivors of sexual violence can cope after traumatic events had to do with their belief system used to interpret life experiences.  The more stringent this personal belief system is, the more psychologically distressed the survivor may be.  For instance, a woman who believes that her rape was a result of an outfit that showed more skin than usual, may possess higher degree of self blame and embarrassment.  If the victim also feels she has no control over her recovery or does not realise that she can empower herself against future sexual violence, she may be more mentally distressed than those who believe that the power of recovery lies in their willingness to change their perceptions or outlook for the better.

Sexual Abuse: A Public Health Concern

The psychological consequences of sexually abused people make for a public health problem.  More sexually abused victims increases the population of psychologically impaired citizens.  This has serious ramifications on a country’s social, economic, and physical well-being.  It is imperative to empower sexually abused victims with the psychological tools geared toward allowing them to take control of their emotional healing and recovery of self-worth.

There is no cut-and-dried response treatment to sexual abuse.  People react to abuse in many different ways and degrees, from mild to life-threatening.  Resultant emotions or behaviour may manifest immediately or be significantly delayed and their duration may vary from short-term to one lasting several years.

Psychiatrists however are now more aware of the strong link between abuse and ill mental health so that survivors of sexual abuse or violence may be better identified and referred to the right specialists for treatment.

Parenting With a Mental Health Problem

parenting with mental illness 1

Being a parent is no easy task and definitely not for the fainthearted.  Parenting becomes even more difficult if the parent himself or herself is disadvantaged with the added liability of having a mental health problem.

How does Mental Illness Affect Parenting?

Many children live with a parent who may have had a short-term mental illness or is currently suffering an ongoing one in which alcoholism, drug dependency, or depression is a fact of life.  U.K. statistics show that about 50% to 66% of parents with severe, long-term illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and personality disorder live with one or more kids under the age of 18.  These estimates intimate that about 17,000 children and adolescents are subject to living conditions under a mentally ill parent.

With a mental illness to deal with, many parents are under tremendous pressure to carry out their daily roles as nurturers, not to mention other roles such as workers, partners, friends, and the like that they struggle to fulfill.  Their troubling mental health, if not treated and supported, will often disrupt the stability of their children’s lives and their relationship with them.  Since parents with a mental problem can be unpredictable, their children may not know how to deal with sudden emotional crisis or how to come to terms with the emotional issues that come along with it.

A parent with mental disorder may feel that they have to put the needs of their children first which is exactly what any parent is compelled to do, whether they have or do not have any mental disabilities.  For mentally disadvantaged parents, doing so however may entail curtailed hospital stays and putting the brakes on medication expenses and intake.  As this may seem like a good thing to do in the short run, skipping or avoiding treatments may backfire on your capability as a parent, upending the balance of your relationship with your children.  Untreated depression, for instance, may make it very difficult or almost impossible for a parent to be emotionally engaged in their children’s lives  so much so that parent-child communication can become impaired.

How Does a Parent’s Mental Health Problems Affect Their Children?

Because the effects of mental illnesses are varied and sometimes unpredictable in individuals, so are the effects these have on the children under an afflicted parent.  Although genetics and home life pose high risks for mental illness on children with mentally unhealthy parents, not all children grow up to inherit the problem or be so negatively affected.  Just because a child’s parent has mental illness, it is not enough to conclude that the child will become mentally affected as well.

A child’s mental health under a mentally unwell parent will hinge on the following factors:

  • severity and length of time of the parent’s mental illness
  • age of the child during the onset of the parent’s illness
  • how the parent’s mental condition affects his behaviour and how this behaviour affects the child
  • degree of stress arising from the parent’s behaviour
  • degree to which the parent’s symptoms interfere with positive parenting such as parental interest and participation in the child’s daily life

With the above factors in mind, it is correct to surmise that a parent’s negative behaviour as a result of mental illness, however, can have many troublesome effects on a child.  Some kids withdraw emotionally, become anxious, and find focusing on schoolwork next to impossible.  Most of them are ashamed of their parent’s illness, consequently finding it distressing to talk about their problems and get the help they need.  Children also may become excessively worried about “getting infected” by the illness and may start to develop emotional problems.  The risk of these children acquiring mental illness is further escalated when poverty, bad living conditions, and chronic instability form the framework of their lives.

What Can a Mentally Ill Parent Do?

When a parent is mentally unwell, it is tough to make children, particularly very young children, understand and make sense of their parent’s behaviour.  Why does Mommy seem so happy for a whole week and then so despondent the next?

parenting with mental illnessOne of the best things a mentally ill parent can do is provide clear facts and information of their condition.  Children need to know what to expect from their ill parent’s conduct.  This will help mitigate the anxiety and confusion children often feel when faced with an adult’s bewildering behaviour.

The sick parent may also educate their kids on what they may find helpful and unhelpful in times when their illness strikes.  Kids can feel like they are contributing to their parent’s attempts to get well.  Bringing in another adult to take on the major part of the caregiving burden is a necessity to avoid placing a huge burden of caregiving on the children.

Parents may draw up a plan for childcare before a situation arises where they need to be hospitalized or are unable to do their responsibilities.  This plan should detail the child’s daily routine, likes, and dislikes and entrusted to a responsible child caregiver.  This way, the child can have a sense of continuity, security, and stability when the care giving is simply continued as is.

Above all, a mentally unwell parent must seek the proper professional treatment.  This way, the right decisions and support may be received, important factors that will greatly help both parent and child cope well with living problems from mental health issues.

Childhood Trauma: What it’s Really Like

Girl Hiding in Corner

What is Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma occurs when a child undergoes a traumatic experience which can have a huge impact on his current and future behavior. The most common causes of childhood trauma are threatening or dangerous situations, the loss of a loved one and even painful, unbearable medical procedures. In some cases, humiliating experiences can also trigger childhood trauma.

Most of the time, adults assume that because of a child’s innocence and young age, he will be protected from horrible experiences. They believe that children are clueless when it comes to dangerous events. But that’s actually the opposite of the truth. Even at a tender age, children feel when something is wrong – though they may not fully understand what’s happening.

 ch2

What are the effects?

Without proper care and treatment, childhood trauma can scar a person for life. Here are some of its serious effects:

  1. Develop numerous psychological, mental or physical illnesses.

Those are Bipolar disorder, Personality disorder, Eating disorder, Schizophrenia, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Depression and Panic attacks.

  1. Attachment and Relationships.

Children with a terrible experience in the past will find it hard to trust and love people – even communicating with them would be difficult.

  1. Dissociation

It is very common for a traumatized child to try and erase that memory from his head. They will mentally remove themselves from the situation which results to their “spacing out” during everyday activities.

  1. Emotional Responses

Children with childhood trauma will most probably have trouble expressing themselves and managing their emotions.

  1. Cognition

A person who suffers childhood trauma will most likely have trouble solving problems, thinking clearly, reasoning and understanding.

ch4

What are its symptoms?

If someone you know has several of the following symptoms, seek the help of a professional immediately.

-Exhibit memory problems

-Poor sleeping habits

-Experience nightmares

-Major changes in eating and appetite

-Exhibit regressive or aggressive behavior

-Strong startle reactions

-Often anxious, irritable or sad

-Poor memory and verbal skills

-Fear adults who remind them of the traumatic event

-Low self-esteem

-Frequent headaches and stomachaches

-Avoidant and fearful most of the time

-Has trouble making friends

-Scream and cry a lot

 ch3

Coping with Childhood Trauma as an Adult

Here are some ways that will help an adult recover from childhood trauma:

  1. Value your health. It’s a scientifically proven that a healthy human being is much more equipped when it comes to handling stress.
  2. Get rid of bad habits. Or better yet, create new and good ones.
  3. Acceptance is the key. Acceptance means that you’re ready to let it go. You are no longer allowing the past to ruin your present life.
  4. Start acknowledging the cause of trauma. Sometimes, a person pretends for years that his traumatic experience never happened. When in fact, the effective way to heal is by recognizing the cause of your trauma. You must also start believing that you were not responsible for it.
  5. Reach out to people. It’s time to stop isolating yourself. Seek emotional support from the people around you.