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Prevalence of PTSD in female victims of sexual abuse is 63 percent
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PTSD

It is a well documented fact that about twice as many women as men suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One reason for the disparity is due to fact that women are more likely to be the victims of domestic violence, abuse and rape. Sexual abuse is one prominent source of trauma which may lead a woman to develop PTSD, so this blog will focus on this segment of the trauma spectrum. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of women are victims of physical violence from their intimate partners each year, and 63 percent of them develop PTSD.

Victims of domestic abuse tend to suffer from mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, and substance abuse is prevalent in this population, being characterized as symptoms of the abuse instead of a co-occurring condition.

What factors define the difference between a typical response to a traumatic event and PTSD? The “DSM-IV” characterizes PTSD in three clusters of symptoms:

  • Reliving: The victim will repeatedly replay the details of the traumatizing ordeal in their thoughts and memories. This can take the form of flashbacks, hallucinations and nightmares. This includes a psychological or physiological reaction when exposed to anything that reminds them of the event.
  • Avoidance: The victim will seek to avoid people, places or situations that may remind her of the trauma. This often leads to a sense of isolation and detachment, as well as a loss of interest in prior interests or activities.
  • Exaggerated arousal: The victim may be excessively emotional, irritable, easily startled or appear ‘jumpy,’ or exhibit disturbances in sleeping and concentration.

Intervention

An important first step in treating the trauma involved in domestic physical or sexual abuse is to improve safety behaviors among the victims. Women suffer more severe physical injuries after an attack than men. Pregnant women, in particular, are vulnerable to greater physical injury, and are at greater risk for suicide attempts and substance abuse after an attack. Intervention for all victimized women includes making a safely plan, securing important documents, establishing a code with family and friends, hide extra clothes and an extra set of keys, and to inform the counselor of any behaviors of the perpetrator that indicate increased danger.

Another important intervention component is with a physician. An appointment with a doctor, where the physician asks whether the patient is experiencing abuse, will open the door to an honest dialogue that could first document the abuse, then put the patient on track to receive special referrals to professionals who can assist her in getting to safety.

Finally, although somewhat controversial, is couples therapy. Although the perpetrator of the offenses would be present in the counseling sessions, they type of intervention is effective in reducing the incidence of intimate partner violence. Working together with a therapist, usually in a group setting, has shown to significantly reduce fear of their spouses, depression and actual incidents of abuse, but the data does not address whether or not the victim has PTSD.

Treatment

Medication

The focus of treating the PTSD patient is to restore their daily functioning, to reduce emotional and physical symptoms, and to help the patient better cope with the event that triggered the disorder. Often, medication can be useful in improving symptoms. Physicians will prescribe various types of drugs to treat PTSD, depending on the patient’s outward symptoms and health history. The most common groups of medications are antidepressants, tranquilizers, mood stabilizers and neuroleptics. Sometimes blood pressure medicines are also used.

Therapy

A variety of psychotherapy approaches are used to help the patient suffering from PTSD. The most common are

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Women who have acquired PTSD as a result of domestic physical or sexual abuse are in a great deal of emotional and physical pain. Their symptoms can be debilitating, and there can be shame involved, which deters many from seeking treatment. But there is help! Sovereign Heath of Arizona is a women’s only residential treatment facility, specializing in abuse and trauma. Recovery from PTSD is a gradual and ongoing process, but treatment will ease the symptoms and teach the victims to cope with their emotions and find a quality of life again. Call our hotline for help at 866-598-5661.

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