The Bell Let’s Talk initiative launched today is focused on raising awareness and encouraging dialogue about mental health. This is a good thing!
Talking about mental health is the first step in making a difference in the lives of all Canadians. If we are serious about removing the stigma surrounding mental health, we must also be serious about talking about what can contribute to mental health issues.
We know that abortion harms harms mental health for both women and men. This is not to say that everyone who suffers from mental health issues has had or been involved in abortion but research has indicated that those who have been involved in abortions are at risk of severe mental health problems.
Women who have undergone induced abortion are more likely to experience mental health problems. These problems can range from mild depression to severe anxiety disorders. In a 2006 study conducted in New Zealand it was found that “in all comparisons, those becoming pregnant and seeking abortions had significantly higher rates of disorder than the not pregnant group and, with the exception of anxiety disorder, significantly higher rates of disorder than the pregnant no abortion group.”1 Researchers concluded that “exposure to abortion is a traumatic life event which increases longer-term susceptibility to common mental disorders.” 2
When compared to women who have given birth, women who have had an abortion also have significantly higher rates of admission to hospital for psychiatric reasons.3 In a 2003 study sponsored by the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons it was found that women who had an induced abortion had a five times higher rate of admission to hospital for psychiatric reasons in the following three months than women who had not undergone induced abortion.4
Women with a past history of abuse or mental problems as well as women with a lack of support, conflicting belief systems or those in their teen years are at an even higher risk for developing psychological problems following an abortion. Researchers have also found that women who are pressured or coerced into having an abortion are also “likely to experience more distress around the decision, as well as guilt, anxiety and depression.”5
Common psychological health problems linked to induced abortion
- Drug Abuse
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Sleep Problems
- Suicidal Ideation
Women who have undergone abortion also tend to smoke more frequently, abuse alcohol, develop eating disorders, abuse or neglect subsequent children and experience relationship problems.6
Women who undergo abortion show higher levels of generalized anxiety when compared to women who carry to term.7
In a National Longitudinal Study of Youth conducted in the US it was found that “women who reported induced abortion were 65% more likely to score in the high-risk range for clinical depression than women whose pregnancies resulted in birth.”8 The Planned Parenthood Federation of America reports that approximately 20% of post-abortive women experience some form of mild depression, while 10% of post-abortive women will experience persistent depression.9
Induced abortion has been linked to increased rates of substance abuse, especially among young woman. A 2006 study conducted in New Zealand by David Fergusson found that young women who aborted had a significantly high rate of drug dependence than young women who had never been pregnant and pregnant young women who carried to term.10 A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse found that women who had had an abortion reported using marijuana twice as frequently as women who carried a pregnancy to term.11
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
According the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately one out of every 10 people is affected by an anxiety disorder known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This type of disorder is typically caused by a “psychologically traumatic event” which can include “seeing another person harmed or killed.”12 Symptoms of this disorder can be classified in three different categories: “the first involves re-experiencing the event … avoidance and emotional numbing are the second … the third category of symptoms involves changes in sleeping patterns and increased alertness. Insomnia is common.”13
One study found that at least 19% of women who had undergone abortions suffered from PTSD.14 A 2007 study on parental coping after the termination of pregnancy for fetal anomalies found that 44% of women suffered symptoms of PTSD and 13.8% of women experienced some kind of psychological distress.15
According to the Elliot Institute women who have undergone abortion can experience “loss of pleasure from intercourse, increased pain, an aversion to sex and/or males in general, or the development of a promiscuous life-style”16 in approximately 30 – 50% of cases. A 2003 research study found that 10 – 20% of women reported that they experienced negative effects in their sexual/couple relationship and on sexual functioning after an induced abortion.17
Recent results from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found that young women who had undergone abortion reported higher rates of sleep disturbance than women who had not had an abortion. According to the Elliot Institute, 36% of women who had undergone an abortion were experiencing sleep disturbances eight weeks after the abortion.18
Induced abortion has been linked to suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. In a 2006 New Zealand study it was found that teenagers aged 15-18 who underwent an abortion were twice as likely to experience suicidal ideation when compared to teens the same age who had never been pregnant or teens who had been pregnant but chose not to have an abortion. The rates of suicidal ideation were also higher for 18-25 year olds in the same study.19
Suicide rates were also found to be higher among women who had an induced abortion, in a study conducted by Finnish researchers. This study used data collected using several administrative registers, including the death register which tracks all deaths among citizens of Finland. It was found that 60% of suicides occurred among women who aborted when compared to women who had either been pregnant and given birth or had been pregnant and miscarried. Suicide rates were twice as high for women who had aborted when compared to only those women who had been pregnant and miscarried.20
If you are suffering from an abortion experience, you are not alone. Countless women and men have been deeply damaged by abortion.
If you are suffering the effects of an abortion long ago, you may find the following websites will help you to begin to make sense of your experience and assist you in your journey to healing.
1 Fergusson DM, Horwood LJ, Ridder EM. “Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2006; 47(1): 21.
2 Fergusson. et al. p. 22.
3 Reardon DC, Jesse Cougle, Rue V, Shuping M, Coleman P, Ney P. “Psychiatric admissions of low-income women following abortion and childbirth.” Canadian Medical Association Journal 2003; 168(10): 1255.
4 Ostbye T, Wenghofer E, Woodward C, Gold G, Craighead J. “Health Services Utilization After Induced Abortions in Ontario: A Comparison Between Community Clinics and Hospitals.” American Journal of Medical Quality 2001; 16(3): 103.
5 Ring-Cassidy. et al. p. 131.
6 Canadian Mental Health Association. “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Fact Sheet, 2007.
7 Cougle JR, Reardon DC, Coleman PK. “Generalized anxiety following unintended pregnancies resolved through childbirth and abortion: a cohort study of 1995 National Survey of Family Growth.” Anxiety Disorders 2005; 19(1): 141.
8 Fergusson. et al. p. 16.
9 Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “The Emotional Effects of Induced Abortion.” Fact Sheet, 2007.
10 Fergusson. et al. p. 19.
11 Reardon DC, Coleman PK, Cougle JR. “Substance use associated with prior history of abortion and unintended birth; a nation cross sectional cohort study.” American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 2004; 26.
12 Canadian Mental Health Association. “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Fact Sheet, 2007.
13 Canadian Mental Health Association. “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Fact Sheet, 2007.
14 Barnard C. “The Long-Term Psychological Effects of Abortion.” Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Institute for Pregnancy Loss: 1990.
15 Korenromp, et al. “A Propective Study on parental coping 4 months after termination of pregnancy for fetal anomalies.” Prenatal Diagnosis 2004; 27: 712.
16 The Elliot Institute. “A List of Major Psychological Sequelae of Abortion.” Fact Sheet, 2000.
17 Bradshaw Z, Slade P. “The effects of induced abortion on emotional experiences and relationships: A critical review of the literature.” Clinical Psychology Review 2003; 23: 948.
18 The Elliot Institute. “A List of Major Psychological Sequelae of Abortion.” Fact Sheet, 2000.
19 Fergusson. et al. p. 19.
20 Gissler M, Berg C, Bouvier-Colle MH, Buekens P. “Injury deaths, suicides and homicides associated with pregnancy, Finland 1987-2000.” European Journal of Public Health 2005; 15(5): 461.
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