After CASE attended the Outrun the Stigma event put on by the Distress Centre on Campus Club and the Mental Health Awareness Club, one of our members was inspired to speak out about how eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health can support survivors of sexual assault.
We believe this is an important perspective that emphasizes the importance of eradication not only stigma surrounding mental health, but victim blaming language that invalidates the concerns and experiences of survivors. We also would like to thank the two previously mentioned clubs for putting on such an empowering event on campus.
The post begins below the photo gallery.
Trigger warning: sexual assault.
Mental Health & Sexual Assault: Eradicating the Stigma
submitted to CASE anonymously
The horrors of being sexually assaulted do not dissipate when foreign police officer shuts the file on your case and you fly back home across two continents. Since being assaulted thousands of miles away from home last year, the state of my mental health has been in complete disarray. In a society that pushes us to work harder, be more efficient, and sacrifice our own well-being in the name of “having it all,” self-care very often falls off the priority list. It was a shock to the system, being expected to return to campus as a full-time university student, under the pressure of performing well and balancing a fulfilling student life platter full of extra-curricular activities and a part-time job.
I thought it would be easy to go back to normal - do the readings, go to class, write the papers. I made it two days into the semester before the first time I erupted into tears on campus. You can’t put a “trigger warning” on history lectures recounting centuries of violence, or on walking down the street where a passerby might catcall you, or on a conversation with friends where sexist jokes are made and celebrated. Whatever that trigger may be, we live in a world that excuses perpetrators of sexual assault. My eyes have been opened to the nuanced normalization of sexual violence and I can’t look away. Recently, I have discovered “vicarious traumatization,” meaning that through my advocacy work in preventing sexual assault and hearing other survivors’ stories, my own symptoms of trauma have intensified. The triggers are everywhere - the strain of constantly hearing invalidating comments about my experience has added another layer of stress and frustration, making it difficult to even go to class or see friends.
Self-care and trying to take care of our mental health is falsely associated with “weakness” or “fragility”. There is a paralyzing stigma against reaching out for counselling or therapy. When I need to leave work early to go to counselling, I still find myself hiding the truth of where I am going and I avoid mentioning it out of the fear of awkward comments or unsupportive feedback. Even with my counsellor’s support, it is a constant battle for the reassuring and validating thoughts to prevail in a world that is telling you otherwise – telling you to get over it and “just smile.” I can’t just smile, not when I still struggle thinking about my own trauma, and the vicarious trauma that I have begun to identify with.
I don’t want to have to recount my traumatic experiences every time that I justify why sexist comments hurt so much. I want to live in a world where we are able to empathize with how badly survivors are struggling to heal, in a community where it is normal and encouraged to ask for help and go to counselling when we are hurting. Seeing hundreds of my peers and community members participate in Outrun the Stigma, cheering in support of breaking down the barriers around the mental health conversation, I feel we have started to take important steps forward to support many of us who continue to struggle. I only hope that the momentum carries forward and that we continue to grow this conversation.
3/11/2014 08:29:29 am
Thank you for telling your story; thank you for posting her story. Working to overcome a mental health concern AND coping with the harsh realities of sexual assault is a double bind - chances are the person can't effectively deal with one while ignoring the other, neither topic is easy to address, and one could face public scrutiny & shaming if spoken out loud AND face the same scrutiny and shaming if deemed to be speaking out too late. So where does one start? For each individual, the answer will be different. But awareness & education is key for the paradigm shift to begin for society. Sexual assault, like mental illness, affects everyone - so let's take care of each other and be kind to ourselves.
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