Sexual Assault and Depression

What is depression?

Depression has been described as a universal and normal human experience. Around one million Australian adults and 100,000 young people live with depression each year and on average, one in five people will experience depression in their lives.

Depression is hard to define and hard to predict. It can strike anyone at any time regardless of age, gender, profession or culture. Depression is a widely felt emotion that can become debilitating. Often there is a great deal of shame attached to feeling like you’re not coping and fear that others will notice. People with depression can find every day functions difficult to manage, and this can have serious effects on physical and mental health.

When a person is depressed, it affects both the body and the mind. It disrupts some of the body’s most basic systems such as the hormonal system, central nervous system, sleep-wake cycle and immune system. This disruption can sometimes make you feel unwell and out of sorts.

Signs and symptoms of depression may include, but are not limited to:

–          Lowered self-esteem and self-worth.

–          Change in sleep patterns, that is, insomnia or broken sleep, or even sometimes sleeping too much.

–          Changes in appetite or weight.

–          Feeling anxious.

–          Varying emotions throughout the day, for example, feeling worse in the morning and better as the day progresses.

–          Reduced capacity to experience pleasure: you can’t enjoy what’s happening now, nor look forward to anything with pleasure. Hobbies and interests may drop off.

–          Reduced pain tolerance: you are less able to tolerate aches and pains and may have a host of new ailments such as headaches or stomach pain that have no medical explanation.

–          Changed sex drive: absent or reduced.

–          Poor concentration and memory.

–          Reduced motivation: for example, it may not seem worth the effort to do anything, things may seem meaningless.

–          Lowered energy levels.

–          Feelings of helplessness.

–          Thoughts of death and suicide.

People with depression very rarely experience just one of these signs, in fact most people report experiencing multiple signs. If you have any of these feelings and they persist for most of every day for two weeks or longer, and interfere with your ability to manage home, work or study, then you might benefit from talking to a professional about this and exploring what things you can do to overcome these feelings.



Why do people suffer depression?

Not being able to cope with the pressures following sexual assault is a common cause of depression. After experiencing sexual assault, people often feel a change or loss of identity as if they were in some way ‘spoiled’ or no longer the person they were. Tearfulness, sadness, poor concentration, loss of interest and enjoyment in normal activities, relationships and sexual activity are all commonly experienced after an assault. This may be made worse by a feeling of numbness, and withdrawal from support networks as part of the person coping with the assault. These feelings may be associated with depression and hopelessness and can last for any period of time. It is also common for some people to report feeling ‘low’ or ‘being out of sorts’ for a number of months or years without any apparent cause before seeking help.

These feelings and reactions in response to sexual assault or other traumas are normal. Assistance is available.

What can you do to overcome depression?

Different types of depression require different types of treatments. This may include physical exercise for preventing and treating mild depression, through to psychological and drug treatments for more severe levels of depression.

Physical exercise such as going for a walk or attending a fitness class helps the body release endorphins through your body, which are natural chemicals that give you energy.

Participating in any kind of regular exercise may also help you feel better about your body image, and give you some time for social connection.

Psychological treatments such as counselling can assist in dealing with problems that can affect people with depression, such as changing negative patterns of thinking or sorting out relationship difficulties. It can also assist in the time it takes for a person to recover, and identify ways to manage the illness and stay well.

Some people who feel depressed often feel physically unwell and take medication to assist in overcoming depression. For more information about medical treatments, please see your doctor, pharmacist or other health professional.

The most important thing is to find a treatment that works for you. There is a range of treatments that have been proven to work, so it may take some time for you to find the one that suits you best.

Counsellors can be a good source of support and give you an opportunity to ventilate your feelings and discuss ways you can manage depression. The person whom you confide in does not need to be a professional. Some people find support from their family members, friends, colleagues and formal support groups that help them get through the difficult times.



What support is available for people who are experiencing depression?

If you think you may be experiencing depression, or know someone who is, it is worth weighing up all of the treatment options that are available to you. One in five Australians experience a mental illness at some stage in their lifetime (, and there are plenty of resources to help you feel better. People with depression may need to get help from their family, friends and/or health professional such as a doctor or counsellor. Laurel House counsellors can assist survivors of sexual assault with their feelings of depression, as well as giving you information to direct you to other people who may be able to help such as doctors and other health services.

For more information and support, please contact Laurel House Launceston on 6334 2740, Laurel House North-West on 6431 9711, or