Mental Health Awareness Week

By Bev Mercer, Solicitor, Child Abuse Law

Mental Health Awareness Week in 2019 runs from the 13th to the 19th May.

For those who have suffered child sexual abuse or exploitation, there are a number of organisations and services that can assist and provide support for survivors who may be experiencing mental health problems resulting from what they have been through.

Symptoms

Survivors of child sexual abuse can show enormous strength and determination in dealing with their abuse but many may also experience a variety of complex mental health and emotional problems which can continue throughout their lives. These can include depression, anxiety, addiction issues, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and sleep and eating disorders.

Delay

It is accepted that survivors often do not disclose their childhood abuse until adulthood as speaking out about the abuse can be so traumatic for them and they fear the consequences of doing so. They may therefore have kept silent for many years and for a number of reasons which can include fear of not being believed, how others may react to them or feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment or self-blame.  As a child, they may have feared their abuser, or were controlled and manipulated by them and so were unable to disclose what was happening or they may have had a negative experience when they did try to disclose.

Impact

As survivors, the consequences of childhood sexual abuse can have deep seated and far reaching effects and can result in low self-esteem, issues with trusting others and forming positive relationships, the use of drugs or alcohol, self-harming or suicidal thoughts. These effects and the strong emotions associated with child abuse can have a significant impact on a survivor’s family and social life, education and employment.

Support

For a survivor, issues can remain unresolved where they have had no or little support, are not sure about accessing services that can offer help or they feel isolated from supportive networks such as family or friends.

For each survivor it is important that they are able to seek and receive the assistance and support that is right for them in their circumstances and that will help them to recover from, and deal with, the impact of the abuse on them and their lives.

There are local and national organisations, resources and services that can provide help and support. A survivor could also speak to their GP who could make a referral to a specialist counsellor or therapist or to another relevant service in the NHS.

Survivors could also make contact with:

  • The Survivors Trust – provide specialist services that can offer support and counselling for those who have experienced abuse or exploitation and they have over 135 member agencies. They also provide information about the Independent Sexual Violence Advisor/Advocates (ISVA) service where there are specialist caseworkers who can help with health and other services and offer support to those involved with a case going through the criminal justice system. A list of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) can also be found on their website.
  • Victim Support – support can be accessed by contacting a local team or they can be reached online, by email or through their support line.
  • Survivors UK – an organisation who can help the male survivors of sexual abuse. 
  • Rape Crisis – centres offering information, services and support. 
  • NAPAC (National Association of People Abused in Childhood) – offer support to adult survivors of childhood abuse. 
  • MIND – offer services including counselling, drop in centres and a helpline.
  • MACSAS – provides support for men and women who have experienced abuse as children or adults by ministers or the clergy.

This list is not exhaustive and these are just some of the organisations and services available throughout the UK who understand the impact of childhood abuse and who can be contacted on a confidential basis.

The child abuse team at Switalskis Solicitors represent survivors of child sexual exploitation and grooming and has extensive experience helping those who have been affected by child abuse to achieve justice.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only.  They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice, and the law may have changed since this article was published.  Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice on their own particular circumstances.