April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and any conversation about sexual trauma should include its impact on mental health.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), someone experiences sexual assault every 68 seconds. Survivors of sexual violence often experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and are at an increased risk for thinking about, attempting, and completing suicide. Sexual trauma is also a factor for many individuals experiencing depression, anxiety, addictions, and disordered eating.
In the context of the growing movement to acknowledge and eliminate sexual violence, improving access to mental health supports and services is an essential part of advocacy to support survivors of sexual assault. In addition to believing survivors, challenging cultural norms, and creating supportive communities, we must ensure survivors have access to the tools that they want and need in their recovery.
This means more than just expanding access to available services.
We must make sure that providers and systems understand trauma and its effects and use that knowledge to shape services. While some survivors look for help directly related to their assault, many survivors are receiving services for other issues like depression or substance use disorders. Because we know trauma is impacting people receiving services for a number of different conditions, we must make sure that a trauma-informed approach is taken wherever and whenever people interact with mental health providers and systems.
As we work to address a culture where sexual violence is prevalent and often goes ignored, we must make sure our advocacy includes talking about the impact of sexual assault on mental health and making trauma-informed supports and services available to all survivors wherever they are.