(Posted 2023 May)
Stalking’s Devastating Impact
Stalking, repeated unwanted contact that causes fear, is a crime. Most of the time, stalkers use unwanted text messages, phone calls, social media posts, and emails as their weapons of choice. Sometimes they send unsolicited gifts or threatening items (i.e., dead animals, wilted flowers, or bullets). Stalkers also might loiter near a victim’s house or workplace, spy on them, follow them, or accost them in public. This behavior can go on for years, with potentially devastating effects.
Of course, stalking’s impact on a victim can vary. Circumstances, past experience, and how the stalking is handled by authorities can influence the overall effect stalking has on its victim. Despite the complexities that may vary a person’s reaction to being stalked, research shows common patterns of response. Although women tend to report greater levels of fear, studies have found male victims experience similar symptoms.
The list below is not exhaustive but highlights some of the more common effects stalking victims experience:
- Fatigue from being constantly on guard
- Chronic stress
- High blood pressure
- Digestive problems
- Development of or worsening of pre-existing conditions (i.e., asthma, psoriasis, or ulcers)
- Dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sweating
- Impact on health of increased use of alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs
- Sexual dysfunction
- Apprehension, fear, terror of being alone or that they, other people, or pets will be harmed
- Denial, confusion, self-doubt
- Guilt, embarrassment, self-blame
- Feeling isolated and helpless
- Anxiety, panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness
- Irritability, anger
- Insecurity and inability to trust others, problems with intimacy
- Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (i.e., hypervigilance, flashbacks, or easily startled)
- Personality changes due to becoming more suspicious, introverted, or aggressive
- Self-medication through alcohol or drugs, including prescribed medications
- Suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts
The longer the duration of stalking, the more significant the mental health impact.
Work, School, or Social Life
- Deteriorating performance
- Increased sick leave
- Being fired
- Dropping out of school
- Avoiding usual activities (i.e., going to dinner with friends or a morning run)
- Having to move or change a phone number
If you or someone you know has experienced stalking, call the Domestic and Sexual Violence 24-Hour Hotline at 703-360-7273 for support.
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