By: Megan Eckles (Therapist/Training Specialist)

What is considered sexual assault?

According to the US Department of Justice, sexual assault is defined as means any nonconsensual sexual act proscribed by Federal, tribal, or State law, including when the victim lacks capacity to consent.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center mentions that the are several forms of sexual violence, which include:

  • Rape
  • Child sexual assault and incest
  • Sexual assault by a person’s spouse or partner
  • Unwanted sexual contact/touching
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual exploitation and trafficking
  • Exposing one’s genitals or naked body to other(s) without consent
  • Masturbating in public
  • Watching someone engage in private acts without their knowledge or permission
  • Nonconsensual image sharing

Who is impacted by sexual assault?

Victims of sexual violence include people of all ages, races, genders, and religions — with and without disabilities.

  • Nearly one in five women in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape some time in their lives.
  • In the United States, 1 in 71 men have experienced rape or attempted rape.
  • An estimated 32.3% of multiracial women, 27.5% of American Indian/Alaska Native women, 21.2% of non-Hispanic black women, 20.5% of non-Hispanic white women, and 13.6% of Hispanic women were raped during their lifetime (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2022).

The Facts:

  • Victims often know the person who sexually assaulted them.
  • People who sexually abuse usually target someone they know.           
    • Nearly 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew
    • 1 out of 5 were committed by a family member (RAINN, 2022). 

How to seek help:

National Sexual Assault Hotline:

1-800-656-4673

What can be done?

  • Raising awareness
  • Supporting survivors 
  • Getting involved to help change laws and policies regarding crimes of sexual violence and how survivors are treated

Resources:

https://www.nsvrc.org

https://www.rainn.org

https://www.nsvrc.org/about-sexual-assault

By: Megan Eckles (Therapist/Training Specialsit)

What are the facts?

  • 1 in 7 children experienced abuse of neglect within the last year (CDC, 2022). 
  • In 2020 Georgia ranked 38th in the nation for child well-being (Georgia Division of Family and Children Services).

Types of Abuse

  • Physical Abuse: injury or death inflicted upon a child by a parent or caretaker other than by accidental means​
  • Neglect: parent or caretaker allows a child to experience avoidable suffering or fails to provide basic essentials for physical, social, and emotional development​
  • Emotional Abuse: parent or caretaker creates a negative emotional atmosphere for the child ​
  • Sexual Abuse: any adult or older or more powerful child employs, uses, persuades, induces, entices, or coerces any minor to engage in any form of sexual intercourse​
  • Endangering a Child: a person intentionally allows a child under the age of 18 to witness the commission of a forcible felony, battery, or family violence, and/or a person knows that a child under the age of 18 is present and sees or hears the act, commits a forcible felony, battery, or family violence (Georgia Division of Family and Children Services).

Warning Signs of Abuse

Mayo Clinic notes multiple signs and symptoms of abuse.

  • Withdrawal from friends or usual activities
  • Changes in behavior — such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance
  • Depression, anxiety or unusual fears, or a sudden loss of self-confidence
  • An apparent lack of supervision
  • Frequent absences from school
  • Reluctance to leave school activities, as if he or she doesn’t want to go home
  • Attempts at running away
  • Rebellious or defiant behavior
  • Self-harm or attempts at suicide

What can I do?

As a mandated reporter, you are required to make a DFCS report. According to GA law, failure to report abuse can be found guilty of a misdemeanor.

How to Report:

Child abuse and/or neglect reports are taken 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A report can be submitted on online via the portal or by paper and faxed in.

1.855.GACHILD (+1 855-422-4453)

Resources:

Georgia Division of Family and Children Services: https://dfcs.georgia.gov

https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/index.html

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/child-abuse/symptoms-causes/syc-20370864

http://www.pcageorgiahelpline.org

Self-harm: this is when one hurts themselves as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings.

Some individuals self-harm as a way to:

-express their feelings when it is hard to put into words

-change emotional pain into physical pain

-reduce overwhelming feelings

-punish themselves for their feelings and experiences

-express suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking their own life

Ways individuals self-harm: 

-cutting yourself

-over-eating or under-eating

-biting yourself

-hitting yourself or walls

-pulling your hair

-picking or scratching at your skin

How to overcome self-harm:

  • Learn to recognize triggers: triggers are people, places, situations, sensations, or events that cause specific thoughts or feelings. 
  • Become aware of the urge to self-harm: being able to recognize urges helps an individual take steps towards reducing or stopping self-harm. 

Urges can include:

-strong emotions like sadness or anger

-racing heart or feelings of heaviness

-disconnection from yourself or a loss of sensation

-unhealthy decisions, like working too hard to avoid feelings 

-repetitive thoughts about harming yourself

  • Identify distractions: identify distractions that can help distract the urge to self-harm. 
  • Keep a diary: a diary can help keep track and understand self-harming behaviors. This is useful to keep track of what occurred before, during, and after self-harming. After a period of time, the diary can help spot patterns of self-harming behaviors (Melinda, 2022). 
  • Use coping techniques: to help overcome self-harm, an alternate coping skill needs to take its place. 
  • If self-harm is to express pain and intense emotion: paint, draw, journal, write a poem, listen to music
  • If self-harm is to calm or soothe: take a hot bath, pet an animal, use a warm blanket, massage your neck, hands, and feet, listen to calming music
  • If self-harm is to disconnect or numb pain: call a friend, take a cold shower, hold ice in hand, chew something with a strong taste
  • If self-harm is to release tension or vent anger: exercise, punch a cushion, squeeze a stress ball, rip something up, make noises with instrument, bang pots and pans
  • Seek professional help: trained professionals can help direct towards overcoming cutting or other self-harming habits. 

Client Support Specialist: a CSS can help identify triggers and develop coping skills.

Therapy: a therapist can help explore past or current trauma that may be triggering self-harming behaviors and can assist in helping develop coping skills (Self-harm, 2020). 

Resources

Melinda. (2022, February 7). Cutting and self-harm. HelpGuide.org. Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/cutting-and-self-harm.htm

Self-harm 2020 – mind. (n.d.). Retrieved February 14, 2022, from https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/5783/self-harm-2020.pdf

What is Bipolar Disorder?

According to National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder (formerly known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression), is a mental disorder that causes and unusual shift in mood, with extreme highs and lows.

Types of Bipolar:

  • Bipolar I 

Having at least one manic episode followed by hypomanic or major depressive episode. Manic episodes lasting at least 7 days or needing immediate hospital care 

  • Bipolar II

Having at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic, but no manic episodes

  • Cyclothymic

Having periods of hypomanic symptoms as well as periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least 2 years (1 year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.

Types of Episodes:

  • Manic

A manic episode is characterized as at least one week of being extremely high-spirited or irritable most of the days, possessing more energy than usual, and at least 3 of the following: 

  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Fast speech
  • Uncontrollable racing thoughts/quickly changing topics while speaking
  • Distractibility
  • Increased activity 
  • Increased risky behaviors 

Some people in manic episodes report psychotic features, such as false beliefs and/or hallucinations.

  • Hypomanic

Hypomanic is characterized with less severe manic symptoms only 4 days in a row versus a week.

  • Major Depressive

Major depressive is characterized by at least 2 weeks where at least 5 of the following symptoms present:

  • Intense sadness or despair
  • Loss of interest in activities the person once enjoyed
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Fatigue
  • Increased or decreased sleep
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Restlessness or slowed speech or movement
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Treatment:

Bipolar Disorder comes with lifelong treatment. Medication is used to balance and stabilize mood. Along with medication, therapy/counseling has proven to be helpful with managing the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder.

Resources:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bipolar-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355955

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/bipolar-disorders/what-are-bipolar-disorders

Self-esteem is defined as the overall opinion of yourself. This is determined by the feelings you have towards your abilities and your limitations. Everyone has a self-esteem, but each person differentiates between low or just right self-esteem. 

Low self-esteem is characterized as ones focus on perceived weaknesses and faults and they give no or little lack of credit to their skills or assets. 

Healthy self-esteem is characterized as a good balance and accurate view of self and has a good opinion of abilities but also recognizes their faults. 

Most individuals fall between the range of low and healthy self-esteem, but there are a significant number of individuals who battle with low self-esteem. 

So, how can we boost self-esteem so that healthy self-esteem is attainable? 

Here are four steps to take to achieve healthy self-esteem:

  1. Identify troubling conditions: think about the conditions or situation that tend to deflate your self-esteem. 

Some common influences of self-esteem can be:

-Your thoughts and perceptions

-How others react to you

-Experiences at home, school, work, and in the community

-Illnesses, disability, or injury

-Age

-Role and status in society

-Media messages 

  1. Become aware of thoughts: Once you have identified the troubling condition(s), pay attention to your thoughts about them. 

Ask yourself, is what I am thinking true? Would you say these thoughts to a friend? If the thoughts you are having is something that you would not say to a friend then you should not say them to yourself. 

  1. Challenge negative thinking: Initial thoughts may not be the only way to view a situation. 

You want to ask yourself if your thoughts line up with the facts of the situation? Is there other explanation to the situation other than my initial thought? 

  1. Adjust your thoughts and beliefs: Replace negative or inaccurate thoughts with accurate and constructive thoughts.

-Adjust your negative thoughts to positive ones

-Use encouraging words to yourself 

-Forgive yourself if applicable 

Once healthy self-esteem has been attained then we can enjoy the benefits. 

Benefits of healthy self-esteem include: 

  • Able to form secure and honest relationships
  • Assertive in expressing your needs and opinions
  • Confident in your ability to make decisions
  • Realistic in your expectations and less likely to be overcritical with yourself
  • Resilient and better able to weather stress and setbacks 

And most importantly to feel good, secure, and increased self-worth (Mayo, 2020). 

Resources

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, July 14). Does your self-esteem need a boost? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/self-esteem/art-20047976

In the United States, 26% of women and 15% of men who were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime first experienced these forms of violence by a partner before the age of 18-year-old. 

Teen Dating Violence (TDV) is when an intimate partner behaves in physical, sexual, psychological violence or stalking behaviors. 

1 in every 11 females and 1 in every 14 male High School students report having experienced physical dating violence.

1 in every 8 females and 1 in every 26 male High School students report having experienced sexual dating violence. 

  • Physical Violence: hitting, kicking, pushing
  • Sexual Violence: forcing a partner to take part in a sexual act 
  • Psychological Violence: Name-calling, insulting, threatening 
  • Stalking: repeatedly unwanted or threatening phone calls and messages and/or showing up unwanted. 

Teens who are or have been victims of teen dating violence are more likely to:

  • Experience symptoms of depression and anxiety
  • Engage in unhealthy behaviors (Tabacco, alcohol, drugs)
  • Exhibit antisocial behaviors like lying, theft, bullying, or hitting
  • Think about or commit suicide (CDC, 2021)

How to prevent teen dating violence:

  • Look for warning signs: if someone you know starts having multiple injuries, a decrease in motivation, drop in grades, or loss interest in activities could be a result of dating violence.
  • Act on warning signs: if you notice warning signs, act on them. Speak to the individual about getting help through talking to an adult or seeking counsel. As well as using resources such as dating violence hotlines. 
  • Be supportive: it is important for the individual to feel loved and supported, especially when they have been in an abusive relationship.
  • Educate: it is important for teens to be educated and understand what teen dating violence is and the impacts it can have on well-being. It is also important for teens to be educated on the resources available if they experience dating violence. 

Teen violence does not just occur face to face. Teens can experience dating violence through internet services as well (Taylor et al., 2016)

If you or someone you know is experiencing teen dating violence please get help right away. 

Love is Respect National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline 

Call: 1-866-331-9474  or  TTY 1-866-331-8453

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 5). Preventing teen dating violence |violence prevention|injury Center|CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 17, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/teendatingviolence/fastfact.html

Male survivor guide to help men find support and overcome the trauma caused by abuse or assault

https://www.innerbody.com/resource-guide-for-male-survivors-of-abuse-sexual-assault-and-trauma

Dating violence prevention. Dating Violence Prevention | Youth.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2022, from https://youth.gov/youth-topics/teen-dating-violence

Taylor, Maralyn, Kimani, Hannah, & Antoilyn. (2016, February 5). 5 ways to prevent teen dating violence. URGE. Retrieved January 19, 2022, from https://urge.org/5-ways to-prevent-teen-dating-violence/

A healthy relationship is feeling happy and satisfied in a relationship between you and another person. 

Individuals who are in a healthy relationship experience:

-respect                                    -open communication

-trust                                        -shared values

-emotional support                 -care

-understanding                        -both shared and individual interests

People who are in a healthy relationship are less likely to experience physical and mental health problems due to feeling happier and more satisfied with their lives. Being in a healthy relationship can help increase self-worth, give confidence, and brings a support for trying new things

How to achieve a healthy relationship?

  • Healthy communication: 

-set aside time to speak with one another

-be specific and clear in your communication

-listen to one another and ask for explanation if needed

-let one another finish speaking before giving your point of view

-try not to be defensive

-stay calm and do not attack 

-say sorry when you are wrong

  • Respect one another:

-be affectionate 

-show appreciation 

-set time aside to spend with each other

-know and respect each other’s boundaries

  • Make the relationship priority 

-keep a healthy balance with work, friends, family

-learn how to say “no” if needed to make time for your relationship

  • Develop shared interest

-do not just do all things one person enjoys

-find shared hobbies

-explore new hobbies with one another 

  • Find solutions that work for both of you

-conflict is going to occur but accept each of your differences and similarities

-compromise will be required from both individuals at different times

Achieving and maintaining a healthy relationship takes time and effort to achieve but there is no greater pleasure than to be happy and satisfied in your relationship (Healthdirect, 2021). 

People who are in an unhealthy relationship may experience:

  • Lack of communication
  • Jealousy 
  • Dishonesty
  • Manipulation
  • Disrespect
  • Controlling behavior
  • Constant fighting 

If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy relationship that turns abusive, please reach out for help (Healthy vs. Unhealthy relationships, 2020). 

National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1.800.799.7233

Georgia’s Domestic Violence Hotline is 1.800.334.2836

If you are in immediate danger, please call 911

Resources 

Healthdirect Australia. (n.d.). Building and maintaining healthy relationships. healthdirect. Retrieved January 21, 2022, from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/building-and-maintaining-healthy-relationships

Healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. Counseling Center. (2020, April 15). Retrieved January 24, 2022, from https://counseling.sa.ua.edu/resources/healthy-vs-unhealthy-relationships/

As the year ends, we start to think about the resolutions we want to set for the upcoming year. These resolutions or goals may be for physical health, new habits, finances, or focus on your mental health. Whatever the goal may be, making significant long-lasting change is difficult. When we fail to achieve these goals the first month of the year, we can increase our anxiety and become frustrated with ourselves.  

This New Year’s, we should set realistic, small, manageable goals for the New Year. The goals that we set should be thought-out and prepared with a plan to achieve this goal. A great way to achievable goals for this upcoming year is to use SMART goals.  

S –Specific  

M –Measurable  

A –Achievable 

R –Realistic  

T –Time-Bound 

Specific: Be specific in what you want to accomplish. Use who, what, when, why, and where when thinking about achieving your goal. This is the mission statement for your goal. 

Measurable: Make your goal measurable to track your progress. Ask yourself what metric system can be used to measure your goal? If your goal is a task that may take a few months to accomplish, then set milestones along the way to encourage the completion of the goal.  

Achievable: Set your goal to be achievable and focus on the importance of the goal. Ask yourself what is required to achieve this goal? How will you accomplish this goal? Remember that the goal is to motivate yourself and not discourage you.  

Realistic: Choose a realistic and attainable goal. If your goal is unrealistic such as learning a new language in one week, you are most likely setting yourself up for disappointment. You want to set a realistic goal that you can meet and increase your motivation to accomplish this goal.  

Time-Bound: Provide yourself with a realistic time frame to achieve your goal. If you allow yourself plenty of time to achieve your goal with small target dates along the way, this will increase motivation to meet your target goal (Borenstein, 2020).  

We want to set realistic, small, manageable goals to set ourselves up for success. After deciding on your SMART goal, we want to take the following steps: 

  • Start small: Setting a goal that you can keep.  
  • Change one behavior at a time: Do not get overwhelmed by trying to achieve your goal all at once. If your goal is to stop drinking soda, then start by cutting out one soda a day for a week rather than completely stopping drinking soda.  
  • Talk about your goal: Talk about your goals with family or friends. To help achieve your goal seek out an accountability partner.  
  • Do not beat yourself up: If you happen to take a minor setback, do not beat yourself up over it. Do not give up completely, and remember that perfection is not achievable. Resolve and recover from your mistakes and get back to attaining your goal.  
  • Ask for support: If you become overwhelmed or unable to achieve your goal, consider seeking professional help if needed. Therapy and Client Support Specialists can help you set realistic goals and help you build skills to attain those goals, along with helping you address emotions and unhealthy behaviors that may occur from not being able to achieve a specific goal (American Psychological Association, 2019).  

Resources 

American Psychological Association. (2019). Making your New Year’s resolution stick. American Psychological Association. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from https://www.apa.org/topics/behavioral-health/new-year-resolutions

Borenstein, J. (2020, March 19). Setting Mental Health Goals for the New Year. Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from https://www.bbrfoundation.org/blog/setting-mental-health-goals-new-year

In the United States, 52.9 million adults experience a mental illness, and 7.7 million youth ages 6 to 17 years old experience a mental health disorder. The most common of these mental health disorders are anxiety disorders. In the United States, over 40 million adults have one or more anxiety disorders. For children ages 3 to 17 years old, 7% have experienced an anxiety disorder (Mental Health Conditions, 2021).  

The four most common types of anxiety disorders are: 

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): This is chronic, exaggerated worrying about everyday life. GAD can cause exhaustion from worry, headaches, tension, and nausea. GAD is the most common type of anxiety disorder. 
  2. Social Anxiety Disorder: This is intense fear about social interaction, often driven by irrational worries about humiliation. Panic attacks are a common reaction to anticipated or forced social interaction.  
  3. Panic Disorder: This is characterized by panic attacks and sudden feelings of terror that sometimes come without warning. A panic attack causes physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, and an upset stomach. 
  4. Phobias: This is where you tend to avoid certain things or situations that make you uncomfortable or even fearful. An individual with a phobia, certain places, events, or objects creates a powerful reaction or strong, irrational fear.  

All anxiety disorders have a unique set of symptoms, but they all have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening. Other symptoms may include: 

Emotional symptoms: 

  • The feeling of apprehension or dread 
  • Feeling tense or jumpy 
  • Restlessness or irritability 
  • Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger 

Physical symptoms:  

  • Pounding or racing heart and shortness of breath 
  • Sweating, tremors, and cramps 
  • Headaches, fatigue, and insomnia 
  • Upset stomach  

The cause of anxiety disorders is believed to be a combination of factors. These factors can include genetics, environment, or a combination of both.  

Genetics: Anxiety disorders can run in families. Some families have a higher-than-average amount of anxiety disorders among family members. Therefore, genetics could be the cause of an individual’s anxiety disorder.  

Environment: Stressful or traumatic events such as abuse, death of a loved one, violence, or prolonged illness are linked to the development of an anxiety disorder.  

Treatments that are most common for all anxiety disorders include: 

  • Psychotherapy, which includes cognitive therapy 
  • Medications, including antianxiety and antidepressant medication 
  • Complementary Health Approaches which include stress and relaxation techniques (Anxiety Disorders, 2021).

References 

Anxiety disorders. NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2021, from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders

Mental health conditions. NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2021, from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions

Boundaries are identified as rules or limits that we establish to protect our security and wellbeing around others. We have to identify and express to ourselves and others these boundaries to help us feel safe and secure. Boundaries help create an environment for everyone to be themselves and meet their needs (Coppock, 2021).  

Benefits of Healthy Boundaries 

  • Conserve Emotional Energy: Setting and implementing boundaries will help you conserve your emotional energy and put you in a better mental state.  
  • More Independence and Self-Esteem: Emotional and physical boundaries will help develop autonomy and independence. Maintaining assertiveness about your boundaries will help boost your self-esteem.  
  • Better Relationships: Having the ability to create and maintain boundaries can increase respect in relationships. Relationships with your partner, family, and friends will improve by setting healthy boundaries.  

Examples of Boundaries  

  • Saying “no” without feeling guilt 
  • Taking responsibility for your actions and emotions 
  • Feeling supported by your loved ones 
  • Not feeling responsible for other people’s emotions 
  • Stating physical boundaries 

Four Tips for Practicing Healthy Boundaries 

  1. Be assertive.  

You are using assertive language to state and maintain your boundaries. Assertive language is clear and non-negotiable.  

  1. Learn to say “no.” 

Become comfortable with saying “no” and understand that you can say no without an explanation required. Learning to say “no” is a great way to maintain assertiveness.  

  1. Safeguard your space.  

Set physical and emotional boundaries and communicate these boundaries to your friends and family. Explain your emotions to your friends and family if these boundaries were to be broken.  

  1. Get support if needed.  

If you are struggling with creating and implementing boundaries, reach out to someone you trust or get professional help with creating and establishing these boundaries (Owen, 2021).  

References

Coppock, M. J. (2021, October 6). 8 tips on setting boundaries for your mental health – DBSA. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Retrieved December 20, 2021, from https://www.dbsalliance.org/support/young-adults/8-tips-on-setting-boundaries-for-your-mental-health/

Owen, M. (2021). Creating and Maintaining Healthy Boundaries. Naomi-Wake. Retrieved 2021, from https://nami-wake.org/creating-and-maintaining-healthy-boundaries/