Long-term therapy can help victims slowly return to normal life, say psychiatrists

Psychiatrists recommend long-term therapy as the only route for a victim of sexual violence such as Sunday night's gangrape of a paramedic student in a bus in South Delhi to help her overcome the physical and mental trauma and eventually lead a normal life.

They say rape victims' coping mechanism vary from individual to individual. For some, sustained therapy is required to ensure her participation in criminal proceedings and help her return to her routine life.

Dr Nimesh Desai, director of the government-run Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), said: "Sunday night's incident can lead to what is technically defined as catastrophic stress. After the victim's recovery from physical injuries, psychological problems can range from short-term reactions to severe and long-term depression."

Prolonged exposure to stress can result cause post-traumatic stress disorder, which trigger disturbing flashbacks, nightmares, strong reactions to situations reminiscent of the violence, a sense of emotional numbing, sleep disorder and lack of concentration, Desai said.

"Victims can face huge problems in dealing with their sexuality and handling future relationships after such experiences," he said.

The paramedic student could suffer aggravated problems because initial reports from Safdarjung Hospital, where she is being treated, suggested that she was conscious throughout the incident.

A senior psychiatrist at AIIMS said: "In gangrape situations victims usually pass out. If the victim remains conscious, post-traumatic stress disorder can cause severe repercussions. This needs psychotherapy and medical support such as antidepressants."

This kind of therapy helps victims come to terms with the situation and look ahead to the future.

"Primarily, therapy helps victims cope with the sexual violence and the social stigma they have to endure. Without adequate help, returning to normal life can be difficult," Dr Samir Parikh, director of mental health at Fortis Healthcare.

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