Physical and Mental Health

In-depth exploration and analysis of mothers’ perceptions, reactions, and distress has shown that shock and emotional effects(i.e., anger, guilt, fear, shame, betrayal, distrust and isolation, grief and loss, depression, confusion) are common following disclosure. Mothers experience both short-term and long-term consequences following a child's disclosure of sexual abuse. Both psychological and physical health is negatively affected. Mothers describe health effects following disclosure, including migraine, gastrointestinal, and other physical symptoms and increased trips to the emergency room. Mothers often experience increases in pre-disclosure health problems (e.g., high blood pressure, diabetes, difficulty sleeping, and smoking).

Discovering that your child has been sexually abused can be a traumatizing event. If mothers have a good support system and prior coping skills, they may be able to effectively manage the responsibilities of their lives. However, many mothers have inadequate support and are often misunderstood, blamed, or stigmatized for their child's sexual abuse. Mothers may not have good coping skills and be unable to manage the daily stress related with mothering a sexually abused child. Increased responsibilities following disclosure include the child's appointments with physician, therapy, attorneys, law enforcement, abuse assessment, and Court-related appointments. Mothers also must manage the Child's emotional distress, including many negative behaviors, and the disruption of family life, routine, and perhaps membership, depending on the identity of the perpetrator. Mothers' emotional and physical health may be affected to such a point that they cannot effectively parent other children, or they may have to discontinue employment. Mothers may develop severe, debilitating stress symptoms, with many mothers experiencing posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) or be diagnosed with PTSD. They may have high levels of anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and perhaps nightmares and may be diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders.

When emotions and stress are not released in healthy ways, physical problems result because the emotions have been internalized and take their toll on the body. Stress results in reduced immune system function, increasing susceptibility to illness and even cancer. Support system (family, friends, professionals); positive health habits (exercise, good nutrition, sleep routine); and effective coping skills are all necessary for mothers to maintain emotional and physical health.

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