May 7, 2018/Mental Health

Sexual Assault: What You Need to Know About PTSD

Understanding Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome

Sexual Assault: What You Need to Know About PTSD

Sexual assault. The trauma can go deep and have a lasting impact. Even if you just want to leave it behind and move on with your life, it’s often not that simple. Do you feel unable to concentrate? Are you having nightmares or flashbacks? These are signs that you may have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

If you have PTSD, others can help you work through your upsetting thoughts and emotions and shift to a more positive outlook. Don’t try to just power through on your own. This condition is well known among combat veterans, but it can happen to anyone who experiences a traumatic event.

Kirste Carlson, a psychiatric and mental health nurse, answers questions about PTSD and how to treat lingering issues after a sexual assault.

Q: What are the signs of PTSD?

A: A frequent and disturbing symptom is nightmares. Reoccurring nightmares in adults aren’t normal.

Night terrors may happen to kids, but even they shouldn’t have them frequently.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Intrusive memories
  • Flashbacks of the assault
  • Memory loss
  • Triggers that boost anxiety
  • Avoidance
  • Hopelessness

Some people have many symptoms, others just a few. But if you’re uncomfortable or your symptoms impair your daily life, you should seek help.

If you are often fearful or find yourself avoiding anything that reminds you of your assault, that may signal the beginning of PTSD.

Advertisement

Q: Are some people more likely to get PTSD?

A: Yes. You’re at higher risk if you:

  • Were abused as a child
  • Were already struggling with depression or anxiety
  • Have blood relatives with depression or anxiety
  • Misuse drugs and/or alcohol
  • Have little or no social support from family or friends

It really can happen to anyone, though — immediately or months later.

Q: How do you identify sexual assault?

A: Nothing gives another person permission to hurt you. If anyone does anything that hurts you, or if you say stop and the person doesn’t stop, it is abuse.

It doesn’t matter where it happens. If you were drinking alcohol, it doesn’t mean you were asking for it. And there are no states that allow one spouse to force sex on the other.

Q: What should you do if you suspect you have PTSD?

A: You need to talk with a mental health professional or your primary care provider. Most communities have a domestic violence center you can contact.

Q: How do you treat PTSD?

A: Several types of cognitive-behavioral therapy help treat PTSD effectively.

You’ll learn strategies to help you work through your trauma and manage upsetting thoughts and feelings about the event. Therapy can help you shift from fear and anxiety to more positive thoughts and feelings.

Advertisement

Your doctor also may prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs. A blood pressure medication known as Prazosin may help reduce nightmares.

Q: Are there self-care activities that may help reduce symptoms?

A: Keep your schedule as normal as possible. Get exercise — even when you don’t feel like it. Eat well and avoid alcohol and other mood-altering substances. You need to help your body and mind recover.

Q: Any other advice?

A: It’s critical to see a health care professional. Even if you don’t want to talk about what happened or don’t want the details in your medical record, your doctor needs to check for sexually transmitted diseases and other effects.

It’s a natural urge to avoid talking about it, but it’s not a benign situation. Take care of yourself by letting others, such as experienced medical professionals, help you.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Person drinking Xiao Yao San tea and reading.
April 23, 2023/Wellness
Benefits and Uses of Xiao Yao San

This traditional Chinese medicine formulation may help with stress, depression and more

A close-up photo of the phrase PTSD in a book being highlighted with a pink highlighter
June 14, 2021/Mental Health
Living With PTSD? How to Manage Anxiety and Flashbacks

How to take steps toward healing

Person eating tiny amount of bland food, daydreaming about larger portion of better food, amidst silhouette of crowd eating
April 19, 2024/Mental Health
The Intersection of Obesity and Eating Disorders

Having overweight and disordered eating is a high-risk combination that often gets dismissed or overlooked

Angusihed person sitting by hospital bedside of loved one
April 9, 2024/Mental Health
Anticipatory Grief: Symptoms and How To Cope

This coping mechanism can help you prepare and think through an impending loss

Person relaxing on couch at home, reading on a tablet
April 5, 2024/Mental Health
5 Surefire Ways To Help You Relax Right Now

Enter relaxation mode by managing your breathing, releasing muscle tension and practicing mindfulness

Glass of ayahuasca tea on stump
April 4, 2024/Mental Health
Ayahuasca: What You Need To Know

The hallucinogenic brew has cultural and religious significance for some communities in the Amazon basin

Oversized smartphone with social media comments, with two people feeling dejected
March 29, 2024/Mental Health
What Is Thinspo and Why Is It Dangerous?

While social media content doesn’t create eating disorders, it can easily exacerbate them

Person studying with headphones on, with laptop and notepad
March 28, 2024/Mental Health
Brown Noise May Help You Focus and Relax

Thunder, waterfalls and heavy rain — these low-frequency sounds might help cancel out disruptive noises and thoughts

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey

Ad