Effects of Abuse and Trauma

Abuse, whether physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual, can have long-term effects on your mental health. Trauma can affect how you feel about yourself and how you relate to others. Women who have gone through abuse or other trauma have a higher risk of developing a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma and abuse are never your fault. You can get help to heal the physical, mental, and emotional scars of trauma and abuse.

How are abuse and trauma related to mental health? Trauma can happen after you experience an event or events that hurt you physically or emotionally. Trauma can have lasting effects on your mental, physical, and emotional health. Experiencing abuse or other trauma puts people at risk of developing mental health conditions, such as:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Misusing alcohol or drugs
  • Borderline personality disorder

Abuse may have happened during childhood or as an adult. It can be emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual. Trauma can include dangerous, frightening, or extremely stressful situations or events, such as sexual assault, war, an accident or natural disaster, the sudden or violent death of a close loved one, or a serious physical health problem.

The long-term effects of abuse or trauma can include:

  • Severe anxiety, stress, or fear
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-injury
  • Suicide

How do I know if my mental health is affected by past abuse or trauma?

It can be difficult to tell whether or how much your mental health is affected by past abuse or trauma. Sometimes the symptoms of trauma or abuse don’t start to affect your life for many months or years after the event took place. If you have any of the following symptoms, talk to your doctor or nurse or reach out for help:

  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Changes in mood or appetite
  • Abusing drugs or alcohol

What should I do if I’ve been abused or traumatized?

The sooner you can get professional help for abuse or trauma, the sooner you can begin to get better. If you have been physically hurt, visit a hospital or doctor right away. You may also need to call the police. The doctor and the police can help document what has happened to you. This documentation may be important later if you decide to press charges against someone who attacked you.

If you are experiencing changes in how you think, feel, or behave that are interfering with your ability to work or live your life normally, reach out to a mental health professional. Find a mental health professional near you. A mental health professional can help make sense of any symptoms you may be having that are related to your abuse or trauma. The professional can help you find the best kinds of treatment to help manage symptoms of the abuse or trauma.

If you’re in immediate danger, call 911.

You can also call helplines to talk about what happened to you or get guidance about what to do:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline (link is external)
    Phone Number: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline (link is external)
    Phone Number: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
  • Safe Helpline (link is external) (for members of the military)
    Phone Number: 1-877-995-5247

Abuse or trauma you have suffered is not your fault. You can get better with treatment.

Sources:

  1. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2014). SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach. HHS Publication No. SMA 14-4884. Rockville, MD: SAMHSA.
  2. Krug, E.G., Dahlberg, L.L., Mercy, J.A., Zwi, A.B., Lozano, R. (2002). World report on violence and health (link is external) (PDF, 1.8 MB). Geneva: World Health Organization.
  3. Seal, K.H., Bertenthal, D., Miner, C.R., Sen, S., Marmar, C. (2007). Bringing the War Back Home: Mental Health Disorders Among 103 788 US Veterans Returning From Iraq and Afghanistan Seen at Department of Veterans Affairs Facilities (link is external). Archives of Internal Medicine; 167(5): 476–482.
  4. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2015). Military Sexual Trauma.
  5. Barlas, F.M., Higgins, W.B., Pflieger, J.C. (2013). 2011 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel (PDF, 3.7 MB). Fairfax, VA: Department of Defense.