Among many things, January is known as National Stalking Awareness Month. It is an annual call to recognize this serious crime and the toll it has on victims.
One in three women, along with one in six men experience stalking at some point in their lives, according to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center. Eighty-four percent of victims feel fearful, threatened or concerned for their safety.
Unfortunately, in this day and age, stalkers have plenty of digital resources. Eighty percent of stalking victims report being stalked through digital technology. The most common technology tactics are:
- Unwanted phone calls, voicemails and text messages.
- Unwanted emails or social media messages.
- Monitored activities using social media.
- Posted/threatened to post inappropriate or personal info.
The influence on a victim’s health
Stalking can impact a person’s mental and physical wellbeing.
“Physical reactions can include stomach issues and the inability to relax or feel safe,” said Patricia Benoit, licensed marriage and family therapist with Marshfield Clinic Health System. “Blood pressure may rise due to increased adrenaline or ‘fight or flight’ responses because of potential unforeseen danger.”
Emotional responses can include chronic fear and paranoia. Victims may also showcase symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including sleep disturbances, exaggerated startle response, unwanted or intrusive thoughts, and avoidance of people or places associated with incidents of stalking.
“The mental health impact does vary from person-to-person because of that individual’s life experience and the level (of being stalked) varies as well,” Benoit said. “A person with a history of trauma will have a more significant response most of the time. And if the stalker is known to the victim, the response varies depending on the history between these two people.”
These impacts can cause long-term problems. Chronic mental health conditions can occur, especially if the stalking is prolonged or if the person has previous traumatic experiences. Depression and anxiety are not uncommon and may persist for months, years or become chronic due to unresolved emotional distress.
How to respond
If you are being stalked or are suspicious of it, contact the authorities immediately. Trust your gut. If it feels like something is not right, you are probably correct. Many people dismiss the idea of contacting police for fear of embarrassment, but it can be a life-saving choice.
Once the immediate threat is diminished, counseling is often encouraged to help process the experience.
“When someone is in the midst of chaos, especially if it feels threatening, they don’t always see the situation and their behavior for what it is,” Benoit said. “Unbiased and uninvolved eyes can catch details they have missed and help someone on the path to recovery.”
Visit the Marshfield Clinic Health System website to learn about its behavioral health services.