Recently there was an overwhelming #Metoo hash tag phenomenon that spread like wildfire on social media. This campaign represented victims of sexual harassment and whoever has been victimized was urged to write #Metoo on their Facebook status. Workplace sexual harassment has been increasingly more apparent in the news and many employees that work for high-powered employers and companies have come forward to tell their story. Although it seems sexual harassment is becoming more apparent in the recent past, it has been around for decades however the only difference is that the majority of victims were too scared to speak up. We live in a highly sexualized culture and as a result there is a very fine line between being “friendly” and sexual harassment. Recent studies have shown that victims of sexual harassment, both men and women, are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety as well as eating disorders later on in life. Victims of sexual harassment may initially using defense mechanisms and coping skills to cover up their underlying feelings however eventually this can take a toll on their mental health if they do not seek appropriate help to address their feelings.

Sexual harassment: A traumatic event

Studies have shown that one in three women admit to being victims of workplace sexual harassment and 65 percent of all women have experienced street harassment. Studies have also found that seven percent of men are victims of workplace sexual harassment and men in the military are ten times more likely to e victims of sexual harassment than civilian peers but 80 percent of these victims do not report it. Workplace sexual harassment stems from hierarchical power dynamics and the majority of sexual harassment complaints include a subordinate and a higher-level position.  Regardless of the level of power or the gender, sexual harassment whether it is in the workplace, in public or in the home results in higher levels of depression, anxiety and eating disorders on a long-term basis. This is because sexual harassment is a form of psychological and (physical) trauma.

How trauma affects the mind

As a traumatic or distressing event occurs, it may overwhelm normal coping mechanisms and as a result the memory and associated stimuli are inadequately processed and stored in an isolated memory network. It is almost as the brain is re-wired to focus only on the traumatic event and it’s associated emotions as if the event was constantly on repeat in the brain. When this occurs, these memories will have lasting effects and will be repeated over and over as if the individual is re-experiencing the trauma for the first time because the sounds, smells, images and feelings were not adequately processed and stored.

Eating disorders and trauma

An individual may feel out of control or powerless after experiencing a traumatic event and as a result, they use restricting or binging behaviors to control that aspect of their life in order to hide their feelings of shame, hopelessness and fear. Other self-destructive behaviors that are used to self-medicate after a traumatic event is non-suicidal self-injury, which includes cutting and other forms of self-mutilation in order to release feelings of guilt and anger. Eating disorders like other self-destructive behaviors are ways to maintain control while distancing oneself from the pain. Others may not even realize their loved one is strongly affected by the traumatic event because they are able to bury their emotions through their eating habits to the point the individual may completely forget why their eating disorder began in the first place.

Seeking help for sexual harassment

Emotional and psychological trauma that is brought on by sexual harassment cannot only result in devastation in an individual’s daily life but when left untreated it can result in mental health disorder such as major depressive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, brief psychotic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. The anguish and frustration from the traumatic event can even lead individuals to attempt suicide. Seeking help before these co-occurring disorders and complications arise is key to living a successful and positive life.