Mental Health Effects on FGM survivors

In this blogpost I will be focusing on the prevalence of psychiatric illnesses such as PTSD, depression, anxiety disorder and other mental illnesses in survivors of female genital mutilation. I will be focusing mainly on a study performed by Alice Behrendt and Steffen Moritz, Ph.D on Senegalese women to prove the correlation between FGM and mental illness. I will also draw upon two different journal entry from American Journal of Psychiatry. One journal entry focuses on unpacking a series of 10 studies based on mental illness and FGM, and the other focuses on the silent mental scarring survivors endure. I also draw from a research blog for an opinion from the Western World (UK) and a research article for a different opinion from Iraq. I quickly touch upon other policy papers and studies to emphasize the impact of the correlation of psychiatric illnesses and female genital mutilation.

The process of Female Genital Mutilation is physical scaring for young women and girls worldwide. As described in my peers blog “Medical Impacts of Female Genital Mutilation on Childbirth and Maternity”, FGM is the practice of removal of all or part of the external female genitalia for non-medical purposes. The illegal practice carries significant physical health ramifications including an increased chance of postpartum hemorrhage, HIV and shock. But, the practice also carries significantly painful mental health consequences.

According to a study conducted on 23 Senegalese women in Dakar who were victims of FGM, and 24 who were not. The study was the first to formally prove what experts have hypothesized for years; women that fall victim to FGM are at a higher risk then the general population of developing psychiatric illnesses. The results study on the 23 Senegalese women showed that to be true. 30% of these women had prevalent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with accompanying memory problems, and 47.9% showed symptoms of psychiatric syndromes. The experts who performed the study attribute the higher risk of mental illness to the trauma these women endured during FGM.

After this study, many more of the kind came out connecting to what the original said; there is a definite correlation between mental health and FGM, specifically due to the trauma endured. Numbers between studies have varied from PTSD in victims being at as high of a rate as 44%, that’s up to 7 times higher than in the average young woman. But, no matter what the rate actually is, data has almost always proved that the risk is higher for mental illness for those who had endured the pain of FGM.

In many countries and cultures, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and somatic disturbances (unexplained mental disorders whose symptoms show as physical), are not treated due to strong stigmas and negative, harmful attitudes within religions and/or cultures, or fear from individuals. For a Western example, many doctors and psychologists have been treating patients with FGM trauma as if they endured cultural practice. New guidelines are being set into place by World Health Organization to treat patients with physical or mental FGM scars as victims of abuse. This attempt helps fight the stigma that victims of female genital mutilation should feel ashamed for the trauma they endured, which in turn helps fight the fears and stigmas that stop these women from getting help for mental illnesses.

There is a very clear, very direct correlation between psychiatric illnesses and the trauma that young women who fall victim to FGM practices world wide have to endure. Now, it is a global responsibility to acknowledge that and fight the stigmas and fears that stop women from getting the help they need, and let them continue to silently suffer mentally, emotionally and physically.