The CogSci of Sexual Harassment & PTSD

When discrimination or harassment causes PTSD, damages awarded in a lawsuit will depend on how quickly the agency rectified the relevant conduct and how long the complainant suffered.

“Sometimes sexual harassment registers as a trauma, and it’s difficult for the [patient] to deal with it, so what literally happens is the body starts to become overwhelmed,” says Dr. Nekeshia Hammond, a licensed psychologist. “We call it somatizing: the mental health becomes so overwhelming one can’t process it to the point of saying ‘I have been traumatized’ or ‘I am depressed.’ Essentially, it’s a kind of denial that when experienced for a long state can turn into physical symptoms.”

These physical symptoms can run the gamut, manifesting as muscle aches, headaches, or even chronic physical health problems such as high blood pressure and problems with blood sugar.

“In the long term, it could lead to heart issues,” says Hammond.

One needn’t be in shock or denial to experience these physical effects. Hammond adds that even patients who have confronted issues with full awareness and recognize that they are anxious or depressed can experience these problems. This is because the brain and body are inextricably linked, as Dr. Wilson explains.

“The part of our brain that processes emotions, including stress, are among the earliest to develop, and is right next to the brain stem, which deals with involuntary functions such as heart rate and breathing,” says Wilson. “When we’re stressed resources go there, which can impact cardiovascular functioning, autoimmune diseases, metabolic function, [and so on],” says Wilson. “Sometimes people think stress is in our head, but our brains are an organ like any other. It’s all very connected. Neurotransmitters found in our brains are also found in our gut. It’s a real thing: this is why we tend to get sick when we get stressed, and over time, if we’re in constant stress or if it’s too much to handle, then there are physiological consequences.”

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