Mental Health

Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) has been linked with higher levels of depression, chronic stress, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among others.1-3 Lifetime frequency of major depression in women with a history of CSA is typically three to five times more common than in woman without such a history.1 Mental health issues such as those listed above may stem from the abuse itself, or because of other long-term effects of CSA, such as low self-esteem, fear, and emotional distress.

Depression can cause changes in the way some individuals think, feel, act, and handle dealing with day-today tasks. Most people with depression do not recognize that they have it and fail to seek treatment, blaming stress or physical ailments for their lack of well-being. This is true for CSA survivors as well. Depression can come from diverse sources and can vary in severity. Some common signs and symptoms of depression are:4

  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies
  • Talking or moving slowly
  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Having trouble sitting still
  • Persistent sad or empty mood
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Thoughts of death or attempting to take one’s life
  • Feeling worthless, helpless, or hopeless

Other mental health conditions

Other potential mental health conditions that can accompany CSA include, but are not limited to:6-7

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety is often described by behaviors such as increased heart rate, sweating, and dryness of the mouth. Anxiety disorders are commonly reported among CSA survivors with some sources suggesting up to five times greater likelihood of reporting at least one anxiety disorder, including panic attacks.

Chronic stress

Severe or prolonged stress that can wear out the body and lead to physical medical problems such as high blood pressure, fatigue, and weakened immune system.

Personality disorders

Unhealthy changes in the way a person thinks, acts, or behaves that can affect the way an individual reacts with others, as well as impair daily activities.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Occurs when individuals experience trauma and continue to feel frightened, stressed, or like they are in danger, even well after the trauma has occurred. Individuals with PTSD often experience flashbacks, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts that allow them to “re-live” the trauma regularly.

Although depression and mental health issues can be serious and potentially life threatening, there are many treatment options that exist to help control and manage both the illness and their symptoms. Some of these treatment options include medications, therapy (both individual and group), counseling, and more. If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of depression or a mental illness, it is important to seek help. Your primary care doctor may be able to point you in the right direction if you are unsure where to start. Additionally, if you or a loved one ever express a desire to end their life, there is a Suicide Prevention Lifeline that can provide support 24/7 and is staffed with trained professionals. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be dialed at 1-800-273-8255.

  1. Paolucci, E. O., Genuis, M. L., & Violato, C. (2001). A meta-analysis of the published research on the effects of child sexual abuse. The Journal of psychology135(1), 17-36.
  2. Briere, J., & Elliott, D. M. (2003). Prevalence and psychological sequelae of self-reported childhood physical and sexual abuse in a general population sample of men and women. Child abuse & neglect27(10), 1205-1222.
  3. Hall M, Hall J. The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse: Counseling implications. American Counseling Association. Published 2011. Accessed December 15, 2017.
  4. National Institute of Mental Health. Published October 2016. Accessed December 15, 2017.
  5. Carr, C. P., Martins, C. M. S., Stingel, A. M., Lemgruber, V. B., & Juruena, M. F. (2013). The role of early life stress in adult psychiatric disorders: a systematic review according to childhood trauma subtypes. The Journal of nervous and mental disease201(12), 1007-1020.
  6. Molnar, B. E., Buka, S. L., & Kessler, R. C. (2001). Child sexual abuse and subsequent psychopathology: results from the National Comorbidity Survey. American journal of public health91(5), 753-760.
  7. Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Bremner, J. D., Walker, J. D., Whitfield, C. H., Perry, B. D., … & Giles, W. H. (2006). The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood. European archives of psychiatry and clinical neuroscience, 256(3), 174-186.

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