Is there a mental health risk for the nearly 827,000 women who have an abortion in the U.S. each year?
Previous research could not conclude a definitive link between an abortion and a woman's mental health; however, those findings are now being challenged. A new study shows that women who have had an abortion face an increased risk for mental health problems including substance abuse, anxiety, and depression.
Back in 2008, the American Psychiatric Association acknowledged women may experience sadness, grief, depression, and anxiety following an abortion, but they could not find evidence that abortions—and not other factors—were the cause of these effects. Ten years later, experts called these conclusions into question. Leaders of the new study made the connection between abortion and mental health saying, "Results indicate quite consistently that abortion is associated with moderate to highly increased risks of psychological problems after the procedure." The findings were published in a 2018 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Making the Link Between Abortion and Mental Health
Researchers analyzed data on 877,000 women, including 164,000 who had an abortion.
Here are the results in numbers:
The percentage of women who had an abortion and experienced an increased risk for mental health problems.
The percentage of women who had an abortion who were more likely to develop an anxiety disorder.
The percentage of women who had an abortion who were more likely to experience depression.
The percentage of women who had an abortion who were more likely to abuse alcohol.
The percentage of women who had an abortion who were more likely to commit suicide.
The percentage of women who had an abortion who were more likely to use marijuana.
Dr. Priscilla Coleman, professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green State University, concluded, "There are, in fact, real risks associated with abortion that should be shared with women as they are counseled prior to an abortion."
Facing Your Own Mental Health Concerns After Abortion
If you have regrets about an abortion, you may be having real feelings of victimization.
Reading the results of this study may increase or remind you of feelings of being abandoned, deceived, or used.
Many times, abortion decisions are made quickly or without adequate information. It is only later that a woman may be shocked to learn that she views the aborted baby as her child and has intense feelings of grief and loss.
Abortion is a type of pregnancy loss. It’s normal to grieve over it or be unable to get it off your mind. It’s also common to feel regret around the anniversary of the abortion or the anniversary of the day their child might have been born.
Dr. Theresa Burke, Nationally Certified Psychologist and author of Living in Color, coined the phrase "forbidden grief" to describe the sadness and pain felt by many women following their abortion decision. She also reminds women that grief is seldom confined to the loss of a child. After an abortion, many women also lose relationships, self-worth, and hope for the future. These losses must be grieved. Women need support to walk through the emotional grief responses of relief, denial, guilt, shame, depression, anger and forgiveness.
Many post-abortive women work to forget their choice. Loss refuses to be forgotten, however. Reminders of a past abortion often arrive unexpectedly, activating a deep and forgotten pain. Unexpected triggers can send a person into a whirlwind of emotional anxiety and destruction, which is why emotional and mental healing is so vital.
When a post-abortive woman can express and process her grief, she is likely to discover that her healing journey has taught her many life lessons that contribute to the increased strength of character, wisdom, vision, and hope.
5 Steps Toward Healing
Many emotions can become stronger when they are ignored. While these steps can help you begin to process your grief and pain, they are not a substitute for professional mental health counseling.
#1: Know Your Trigger Dates
Use a calendar to mark any dates you know could conjure feelings of guilt, depression, shame, or anxiety. Also, record unexpected dates when you feel the triggers of grief.
#2: Identify Healthy Distractions
Senses are amazing things. You may experience unexpected triggers from sounds, sights, and smells. Have a list of healthy, comforting distractions to help offset unpleasant senses. Here are a few to get you started: Listen to music, pray, journal, or go for a walk.
#3: Surround Yourself with Support
Get involved in positive, life-affirming activities where you can interact with people who will encourage you, even if they don’t directly know about your abortion. Affirmation and supportive relationships are an essential part of your healing journey.
#4: Write Your Story
Journaling your life experiences can help you realize your past experiences that led to an unexpected pregnancy and an abortion decision. Everything in your life is part of your bigger story. It can even help to write out your future story so you can take action steps to make it become your reality.
#5: Reach Out for Help
Others have walked this path and are ready to walk with you as you journey to recovery. Many pregnancy centers and churches have connections to abortion recovery support groups led by experienced facilitators. We recommend connecting with Passages of Hope, a safe and confidential place to receive abortion recovery support.
Find a safe place to share your feelings. Feelings of sorrow, confusion, grief, anger, and shock are normal after being reminded of a traumatic event. If you believe you may be experiencing unwanted emotions associated with a past abortion, contact A Woman’s Place Medical Clinic. We can help you get connected with resources and support as you walk your journey toward healing.
Please share this blog to help others struggling with unwanted turmoil after abortion.
Find a Clinic | Make an Appointment
Passages of Hope
Books by Dr. Theresa Burke:
Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion
Living in Color: The Goal of Post-Abortion Recovery
Articles & Studies:
Abortion Tied to Sharp Decline in Women’s Mental Health
British Journal of Psychiatry Published Study
Care Net: Post-Abortion Resources