To help, the Mental Health Foundation has created a guide offering self-care tips for survivors, designed to help people who may find the extensive media coverage triggering.
Created in consultation with Rape Crisis England and Wales ahead of International Women’s Day, the guide provides women with techniques designed to help them “gain some control and headspace after they have seen an upsetting report”.
It includes practical tips such as how to distract yourself if suddenly faced with a potentially re-traumatising report, as well as how to access support.
Rape Crisis received a 28% increase in calls in the two weeks after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke and Katie Russell, a spokesperson for the charity, said there is routinely a spike in contact from survivors when rape and sexual violence are in the news or featured in the storylines of popular dramas.
“Survivors frequently tell us about the triggering impact this kind of content can have, and we regularly ask media to be mindful of the very many survivors who will always inevitably be among any given audience, because of the huge prevalence of sexual violence,” she said.
While Dr Amy Pollard, from the Mental Health Foundation, agreed reports can be “re-traumatising for survivors, especially if they feel the coverage is something they can’t escape from”, she said there are steps people affected can take to protect their mental health.
“Simple techniques like taking a breath when you are feeling anxious about a report you have seen or writing down your thoughts can make a real difference,” she said. “That is why we have published these guidelines today following consultation with experts on managing trauma from sexual violence.”
Here is the advice for abuse survivors who are feeling triggered by media reporting of traumatic events.
1. Get grounded.
Focus on your feet - do they feel hot or cold? How does the ground feel beneath them? Hard or spongy? Describe this to yourself in your head. This can help to divert your thoughts and relax your brain.
2. Take a breath.
Take a deep breath in, then breathe out slowly, making the out breath last a little longer than the ‘in’. This can help to refocus your mind while also relaxing your body.
3. Say what you see.
Take in the things around you and name them in your mind - table, lamp, chair, shoes, pen etc. Be as descriptive as you like - this can help you focus your brain on other things.
4. Set you anger free.
Write down your thoughts and feelings on a piece of paper, and then rip the paper into small pieces. This can help regulate feelings of anger and rage that may understandably come up for you.
5. Affirm your worth.
At times when you’re feeling happy and positive about yourself and your life, try writing a couple of sentences of positive ‘affirmation’ on a piece of paper and keeping this on you. For ideas of the kind of things you might write down, try thinking about what a good friend might say about you, or the kinds of things you might say to a good friend who’s been through something similar. This can help you regulate feelings when you are low.
6. Educate and empower.
Reminding ourselves of the myths that exist in our society around rape and sexual violence and abuse, and how to challenge them, can feel empowering and positive. Rape Crisis Myths Vs Realities can help you to feel empowered and challenge victim blaming myths.
7. Have a social media sort out.
Regularly assess your social media activity like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Tune in with yourself and ask if they need to be adjusted. Are there particular accounts or people that trigger certain unpleasant emotions or feelings for you, and would it be worth unfollowing them for a while?
8. Talk and share.
When you’re ready and feel safe to, talking to someone you trust about what’s happened/is happening to you and the way you’re feeling can really help. It might be a friend or family member, or a specialist, confidential service like a Rape Crisis helpline (see details below). If nothing else, this can help to remind you that you’re not alone.
The full guidance is available for free on the Mental Health Foundation’s website.
Useful helplines and websites:
- Victim Support - Visit victimsupport.org.uk or call 0808 168 9111 Sexual Abuse Referral Centres - Find a SARC
- Rape Crisis - Visit rapecrisis.org.uk or call 0808 802 9999 The Rape and Abuse Line - Visit rapeandabuseline.co.uk or call 0808 800 0123 (answered by women) or 0808 800 0122 (answered by men).
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org