“Nothing happened. She’s just mad and trying to get him in trouble. She’s always lying. You can’t believe a word she says.” These harsh words were said about a survivor named Liza by someone named Alex, a mental health professional who was meant to help Liza after she had been sexually assaulted. Why didn’t Alex believe Liza’s report of assault? Because Liza has a history of serious, chronic mental illness. Alex doesn’t believe that someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia can ever be credible. So not true!
Liza was able to describe the series of events leading up to her assault, what she experienced during the assault, and how she has been experiencing intrusive memories, and feelings of fear and shame ever since. The problem is that people like Alex may discount Liza’s statements or dismiss her all together because of her history of mental illness. It may be easier for Alex to believe that no assault happened than deal with the complex challenges involved in helping Liza stay safe, access appropriate treatment, and seek justice.
Unfortunately, children and adults with mental illness actually face an increased risk of sexual abuse. There are a variety of reasons for this, including: social isolation, difficulty interpreting social situations, poor interpersonal boundaries, dependence on others for basic needs, and so on. When professionals, family members, and the community at-large buy into the myth that individuals like Liza shouldn’t be believed, it increases the vulnerability of people with mental illness. Predators seek out and prey on victims who they know will not be taken seriously.
The first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week and The National Alliance on Mental Illness describes this week as “a time to shine a light on mental illness and replace stigma with hope.” Mental Illness Awareness Week provides a dedicated time for mental health advocates across the country to come together as one unified voice.
Family Support Line’s tagline is “Help. Hope. Healing.” So, it only stands to reason that we take an active role in fighting the stigma of mental illness and educating individuals, families, professionals, and communities about the intersection of sexual abuse and mental illness. Of course, we don’t just do that during one special week when pumpkin spice lattes are in season. We are dedicated year-round. Please join us!
For inspiration, check out the video below and other resources at BringChange2Mind.org.
Note: To protect individuals’ privacy, names have been changed.