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Understanding the Impact of Sexual Trauma on Mental Health and Well-Being

Sexual trauma can have a profound and lasting impact on a survivor’s mental, emotional and physical health. The effects of sexual trauma are important to understand if you or someone you love is a victim of sexual assault. Shedding light on how sexual trauma can impact mental health and wellness is the first step toward addressing these challenges and healing.

The Psychological Consequences of Sexual Trauma

A victim’s response to sexual violence, such as sexual assault or abuse, is unique to the individual. However, many survivors share adverse impacts on their mental health and psychological well-being. Acute and chronic psychological symptoms are common among sexual abuse survivors. Child, teen or adult sexual trauma can result in various long-term mental health consequences.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Many survivors of sexual trauma develop post-traumatic stress disorder in the days and weeks following the incident. PTSD symptoms can be debilitating and long-lasting, interfering with a victim’s daily life. They can include chronic anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive memories, negative or distorted thoughts, loss of interest in favorite hobbies or activities, emotional detachment, and hypervigilance.


An individual who experiences one or multiple incidents of sexual trauma is at risk of developing depression. Depression is a mental health disorder that is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities, and feelings of worthlessness. 

Many individuals who struggle with depression also experience reduced self-esteem or self-worth and feelings of guilt or shame. Depression can also cause physical symptoms, such as weight loss or gain, fatigue, stomachaches, headaches, and chronic pain. In severe cases, depression can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.

Anxiety and Panic Disorders

Being victimized by a sexual predator can lead to heightened levels of anxiety that affect the survivor for many days, weeks or months. Survivors may experience chronic fear, apprehension, panic or a sense of helplessness about their safety. These symptoms can be disabling and make it difficult for a victim to leave home, interact with others and enjoy activities. It forces the victim to live with a high level of emotional stress.

Issues Related to Coping With Sexual Trauma

Survivors of sexual trauma can also struggle with secondary issues due to the reality of having to live with the psychological consequences of the attack. Trying to cope with the mental and emotional effects of sexual assault can lead to co-occurring disorders, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, disassociation and self-harm.

It is important for a sexual assault survivor to seek professional help to learn how to cope in healthy, productive ways. Healthy coping mechanisms can help survivors manage their emotions and find healing. Mental health professionals can help victims explore different techniques to find what works best, such as self-care, positive activities and relaxation exercises. 

Help Is Available for Survivors of Sexual Trauma

It is crucial to get the help and support you need if you are a victim of sexual violence. A variety of support options are available, including an anonymous 24/7 helpline provided by Consider joining a support group for sexual trauma survivors in your community or talking to friends and family members about your feelings. 

Speak to a therapist or counselor who specializes in sexual trauma for professional mental health care. Consider treatment options such as prescription medications if recommended by a medical professional. Help, hope and healing are available for victims of sexual trauma. You do not have to go through this alone.