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Sexual assault survivors and PTSD July 1, 2019

Sexual assault survivors may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”). PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.  They result from physiological damage to the Amygdala and to the Prefrontal Cortex (PFC). The amygdala detects threats in the environment and activates the “fight or flight” response and activates the sympathetic nervous system to help deal with the threat. The PFC regulates attention and awareness, make decisions about the best response to a situation, initiate conscious, voluntary behavior, determines the meaning and emotional significance of events, regulate emotions, and inhibits or corrects dysfunctional reactions.

Studies of people with PTSD show a hyper reactive amygdala and a less activated medial PFC. In other words, the amygdala reacts too strongly to a potential threat while the medial PFC is impaired in its ability to regulate the threat response. The consequences present symptomatically in a number of ways.

Symptoms of intrusive memories:

  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event
  • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
  • Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event

Symptoms of avoidance:

  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event

Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood:

  • Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Feeling detached from family and friends
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb

Symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions:

  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Always being on guard for danger
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame

PTSD is a serious disorder. If you have been the victim of a sexual assault at work, speak with your medical doctor and call our office. We may be able to help you.

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