Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Triumph of Human Resilience

At the very least, it’s a testimony to the power of human resilience. Researchers in Canada have discovered that two thirds of those who survive childhood sexual abuse overcome the trauma and go on to have good mental health.

It matters ... for a very simple reason. Every time we hear about childhood sexual abuse we hear the ominous warnings, to the effect that these children’s lives have been destroyed, that they will never recover.

At the very least, the message, occasionally promoted by activist therapists, must detract from recovery. No one will find it easy to recover if a physician, for example, explains that he will never recover. As I have often noted on this blog, the case of Elizabeth Smart tells us that recovery from sexual trauma is possible.

As reported by HealthDay News, via the UPI:

Two in three survivors of childhood sexual abuse have good mental health, but a new study suggests that social isolation, chronic pain, substance abuse and depression can hinder recovery.

Researchers looked at 651 Canadian survivors to identify factors associated with what the researchers call complete mental health.

"Remarkably, two-thirds [65 percent] of the childhood sexual abuse survivors in our sample met the criteria for complete mental health -- defined as being happy or satisfied with life most days in the past month, having high levels of social and psychological well-being in the past month, and being free of mental illness, suicidal thoughts and substance dependence in the past year," said lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson. She is director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging at the University of Toronto.

"While the prevalence of complete mental health among childhood sexual abuse survivors is higher than we had expected, it is still substantially less than that found in the general population [77 percent]," Fuller-Thomson said in a university news release.

It is useful to have the last statistic. Those who did not suffer sexual abuse in childhood had a somewhat better chance of achieving good mental health. Surely, this tells us that abuse does have a deleterious effect on mental health, but it also tells us that the difference is not as large as one might have expected.

As for how to treat survivors, the researchers have some ideas:

"Having a confidante was found to be the second-strongest single predictor of complete mental health, increasing the odds of past-year complete mental health nearly sevenfold," said co-author Deborah Goodman, director of the Child Welfare Institute, Children's Aid Society of Toronto. "Given the importance of family and social support systems, brief interventions to address trauma post-experience and bolster social and familial support are also called for," Goodman said.

Note the treatment program. As we saw in the case of Elizabeth Smart, family and community support systems matter enormously. They matter especially if friends and family do not define the victim by the fact of having been abused. After that, having someone you can confide in, perhaps through a brief therapy, also helps.

We note that Elizabeth Smart did not have the luxury to keep her abuse secret. For others, and in contradiction to the current insistence that people publicize and advertise their abuse, the researchers emphasize discussing the matter with one person, and, if possible, with only one person.

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