Survivor Spotlight: Mental Health Awareness

Sexual assault survivor David portrait.  “I didn’t understand why or how this was happening to me, and I no longer had control of my body or thoughts. I thought I was going to die, and I just knew I was really sick with something bad.”

This is David Moody’s description of experiencing his first panic attack. He didn’t know it at the time, but these attacks were symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on by memories of sexual abuse that happened when he was young. When David was 36, he found out that someone close to him had also been sexually abused; this news stirred up his own memories, which for so long he had never spoken about or confronted. “I was like a pressure cooker that had a valve released. I didn’t know how tight I had been wound up until I said the words out loud, ‘I was sexually abused by a male babysitter.’”

Survivors of sexual abuse and assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression, and six times more likely to suffer from PTSD. After experiencing a few more frightening panic attacks, David eventually found the help he needed from a therapist. He also created a blog and says that writing and speaking out about his past has helped him immensely. “Once I started writing online and really allowed myself to express the impact of the sexual abuse, it was like my eyes were opened and my senses were clicking on all cylinders,” he says.

David enjoys photography, too, and says, “I love sharing my pictures because I want others to feel and share the newfound joy I have inside. I feel free.” He has also been serving at Harvard as a Fellow in the Advanced Leadership Initiative, where he’s developing a project to help survivors of sexual abuse.

For others who may be dealing with panic attacks or struggling with PTSD, David wants to let them know they’re not alone: “Get through the fear, and find the help you need to start on your journey of healing,” he says. “Dream big, and know you can have an awesome life full of joy and love.” To friends and family of survivors, David wants to say, “Don’t try to force someone to talk about it until they are ready. Be patient and just love them.”

May is National Mental Health Month. To learn more about PTSD, including how you can get help, visit the National Alliance for Mental Health’s website, and find more resources at RAINN.org. If you are a male survivor of child sexual abuse, visit 1in6.org.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org, y en español: rainn.org/es.

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