By Kieran Chatterton, Solicitor
On 6 February 2020 it is Time to Talk day, an initiative of Time to Change to encourage people talk about mental health. It is a chance for everyone to think about and become more aware of mental health and how it can affect people. Importantly it encourages conversations to be had about mental health, with the aim being to help break down the stigma that is still attached to people with mental health problems.
This is a particularly important subject for many of our clients who have experienced emotional, physical and sexual abuse as children. The contribution of child sexual abuse to mental health problems in the population is very significant. For example, a 2010 study in Child Abuse and Neglect (Cutajar et al) found that 23% of adult survivors of abuse required lifetime input from mental health services, compared with only 7% of the general population. Many survivors of such abuse suffer from the effects of a variety of mental health problems including flashbacks, depression, anxiety, self harm and post traumatic stress disorder. In turn these problems can all have a serious impact on someone’s ability to work and form good relationships with family members and partners. Our clients often tell us that they are unable to trust people because of their experiences which can make it even more difficult for them to tell anyone about what has happened. Survivors of abuse can often suffer with both the stigma of the abuse itself as well as the stigma of having mental health problems associated with the abuse.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) was set up because of serious concerns about institutional failings to protect children. Part of the work of the Inquiry has involved the Truth Project in which survivors of abuse can disclose, anonymously, what happened to them. To date over 4000 people have shared their experience with the Inquiry and examples can be found here on the Truth Project website . The overwhelming feedback from those that have participated in the Truth Project has been positive. While facing such memories will be difficult for survivors of abuse, with the right support it can be an empowering experience which leads to lifelong improvements in their mental health.
In recent years there has also been much greater awareness about the prevalence of child sexual abuse and the impact it can have. In response to this the Police now have much better procedures, and officers are much better trained to investigate reports and support survivors who do report sexual abuse. We would encourage all survivors of abuse to report it to the police if that is what they wish to do. Having said that it may be that someone who wants to report abuse does not wish to talk to the Police. They may prefer to talk to a health care professional in order to see if they are able to access psychological help. Alternatively they may wish to speak to a Solicitor to see if they are able to bring a claim for compensation.
We have helped many survivors of abuse secure compensation and many of our clients tell us that the process of talking about what happened and holding someone to account is a helpful experience for them. When we make a claim it can also, where appropriate, include the cost of mental health treatment. This is because when a claim is made we will ask our clients to see a psychiatrist or psychologist and they will often recommend treatment which is not easily available on the NHS. If that is the case then we can claim for additional sums of compensation so that our clients can access the treatment they need quickly. This type of treatment along with the conclusion of the case can often help to draw a line under the process of disclosure.
There are a range of services in addition to the NHS who can offer support to those in need of mental health support including the Samaritans (telephone number 116 123) and Mind, (0300 123 3393). Specific support for those that have been abused or sexually assaulted include the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (0808 801 0331), Rape Crisis (0808 802 9999) and the Survivors Trust (0808 801 0818).