Sexual Harassment’s Hidden Health Impacts

Sexual Harassment's Hidden Health Impacts
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Sexual harassment has been considered a stressor with physical and mental health effects for those subjected to it.

Sexual harassment and assault are mentally traumatic, but a recent study has discovered that they also have long-term physical health implications.

According to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, women who had been harassed or assaulted were approximately twice as likely to have high blood pressure and insomnia.

“When it comes to sexual harassment or sexual assault, our research demonstrates that lived experiences can have a substantial impact on women’s mental and physical health,” says Rebecca Thurston, a psychiatry professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

“This is a problem that requires immediate attention, not just in terms of therapy, but also in terms of prevention.”

Mental health impacts:

According to registered psychotherapist Dr Tiffanie Davis, victims of sexual trauma frequently experience self-blame and isolation. “Anger is a well-known response to trauma,” Davis said, “but it is a secondary emotion following hurt and disappointment.”

“Flashbacks and panic attacks are typical in women who have undergone trauma as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.” They can also develop substance misuse problems, attempt suicide, or suffer from full-fledged Major Depressive Disorder.”

When someone is experiencing substantial psychological issues, personal care such as nutrition, exercise, and sleep can become a challenge, one of the early indicators of depression.

It’s not only in your head; your body reacts as well:

“Well, I can see how sexual assault can cause such disruptions,” some might respond, “but how can harassment be so harmful?” “That sounds a little dramatic!” Not only is this way of thinking problematic because it denies medical research and contradicts survivors’ accounts, but it also feeds the crushing uncertainty that so many victims experience.

These uncertainties can lead to denial, which can cause its own set of problems, especially when it comes to physical health.

“Sometimes sexual harassment registers as a trauma, and it’s tough for the [patient] to deal with that, so the body literally becomes overwhelmed,” explains certified psychologist Dr Nekeshia Hammond.

“We call it somatising: when one’s mental health gets so overpowering that they can’t digest it and can’t articulate things like ‘I’ve been traumatised’ or ‘I’m depressed.’ In essence, it’s a form of denial that, if sustained for a long period of time, might manifest as physical symptoms.”

The physical impacts:

The following are some of the negative health repercussions of sexual harassment:

  • Blood pressure:

According to a 2008 study, sexual harassment raises blood pressure. About 1,200 Boston-area union workers were surveyed about workplace abuse and given a health exam as part of the study.

At least one episode of sexual harassment was reported by 23% of the workers. According to the findings, there is a link between sexual harassment and higher blood pressure in women.

Sexual harassment may cause physiological reactions similar to stress, linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • Insomnia:

According to Debra Borys, a psychotherapist with a private practice in Westwood Village, Calif., sexual harassment has been connected to sleep difficulties. It could be due to the event’s stress and anxiety affecting sleep patterns.

For example, victims may lie awake at night thinking about the experience, or the event may trigger nightmares, according to Borys.

  • Neck pain: 

According to Canadian research involving nearly 4,000 women published this year, sexual harassment causes body aches and problems. Women with neck pain were 1.6 times more likely to report receiving unwelcome sexual attention in the study.

The findings suggest that efforts to prevent workplace harassment may reduce bone and muscle-related disorders for employees if verified by future research, the researchers stated.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, chronic pain (pelvis, back), headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, sexual dysfunction, and heartburn are just a few of the other physical consequences of sexual trauma. Psychological problems may bring on these illnesses, but they are not “imaginary.” Physical pain can be caused by psychological suffering.

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