Every 73 seconds, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. This staggering statistic is just one example of the prevalence of sexual assault in our society. But what about its long-term mental health effects? Far too many survivors face heartbreaking repercussions in their day-to-day lives. From struggling with PTSD and panic attacks to managing depression and anxiety, individuals who have experienced sexual trauma can experience a range of difficult emotions, which can be incredibly hard to cope with alone.

Clearing up some misconceptions about sexual assault

There are many myths surrounding sexual assault and mental health that can be harmful to survivors. Here are a few examples:

Myth: Sexual assault only affects women.

Fact: Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, and can profoundly impact mental health.

Myth: Only people who are weak or vulnerable are sexually assaulted.

Fact: Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of their strength, resilience, or other personal characteristics.

Myth: If someone doesn’t report the assault immediately, it must not have happened.

Fact: Many survivors of sexual assault do not report the assault immediately, often due to feelings of shame, guilt, or fear. Delayed reporting does not negate the reality of the assault or the impact it can have on mental health.

Myth: Survivors of sexual assault will never fully recover.

Fact: With the right support, survivors of sexual assault can heal and recover from the trauma and lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.

Myth: Survivors of sexual assault are damaged or broken.

Fact: Survivors of sexual assault are not defined by their trauma and can go on to achieve great things in their lives.

It is important to challenge these myths and support survivors of sexual assault in their healing and recovery process.

How Does Sexual Assault Affect Mental Health?

Research has shown that sexual assault can have severe and lasting impacts on mental health. Sexual assault can cause a range of psychological symptoms, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as rape or sexual violence.

Symptoms include:

  • Nightmares and flashbacks

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Increased irritability

  • Outbursts of anger

  • Hypervigilance

  • Feelings of detachment from loved ones

Depression is another common consequence of sexual assault. It can be characterized by feelings of worthlessness or guilt, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, changes in eating habits, fatigue or lack of energy, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and thoughts about death or suicide. Anxiety is also common among survivors; it often manifests through physical symptoms such as insomnia or gastrointestinal issues.

Risky behaviors as a coping mechanism

Additionally, many people engage in risky behaviors to try and deal with their traumatic experiences. Survivors may turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with the trauma of sexual assault. Substance abuse can impair judgment and decision-making, increasing the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors.

Unsafe sexual practices is another common risky behavior. Not using condoms or engaging in sex with multiple partners allows some to feel in control of their sexual experiences. They may also engage in sexual behavior as a way to seek validation or to feel desired. Survivors of sexual trauma may engage in self-harm behaviors, such as cutting or burning themselves, to cope with the emotional pain.

Unhealthy relationships are another coping mechanism. Survivors may seek out relationships with people who exhibit controlling or abusive behavior, as these dynamics can feel familiar and provide a sense of control.

Why Sexual Assault Impacts Mental Health

Sexual assault can have significant and long-lasting impacts on mental health. Here are some of the reasons why:


Sexual assault is a traumatic experience that can have a profound effect on an individual’s psychological well-being. Trauma can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Shame and guilt

Survivors of sexual assault may experience feelings of shame and guilt, which can lead to negative self-perception and impact mental health.

Disruption of trust

Sexual assault can shatter an individual’s sense of confidence in themselves, others, and the world around them. This can make it challenging to form close relationships and lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Fear and hypervigilance

Survivors of sexual assault may experience fear and hypervigilance, meaning they are constantly on guard for potential threats. This can lead to various mental healthissues, including anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disturbances.

Physical health issues

Sexual assault can also lead to physical health issues, such as chronic pain, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems, which can impact mental health.
These long-term impacts can be debilitating, affecting relationships with family and friends and impacting employment and all other aspects of life.

The importance of seeking help

It’s essential to seek mental health treatment after being sexually assaulted because the trauma can have a profound and long-lasting impact on your psychological well-being. Sexual assault is a traumatic experience that can lead to a range of symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mental health treatment can help develop coping strategies to manage these symptoms and improve overall well-being.

Healing from the trauma of sexual assault is a complex process that can take time. Mental health treatment can help you work through emotions and experiences in a safe and supportive environment. Left untreated, the impact of sexual assault can lead to long-term mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Seeking mental healthtreatment early can help reduce the risk of developing these issues.

Seeking mental health treatment is a personal decision, and there is no right or wrong way to heal from the trauma of sexual assault. However, seeking professional support can be crucial to healing.

Serene Health is here for you. We provide behavioral health and mental health services designed to help those who have experienced trauma or abuse and need support in their journey toward healing. Our clinicians are dedicated to providing a space for clients to feel safe, comfortable, and unconditionally supported as they work through their trauma.

We also have flexible appointments available through our Telehealth platform so you can speak to a therapist online from the comfort of your home. Call us at 844-737-3638 or visit www.serenehealth.com to schedule an appointment.