This paper examines the concept of catastrophic experience, its relationship to the range of acute and prolonged stressors to which women may be exposed and the broad impacts on their mental health and well-being. It identifies catastrophe in terms of multiple accumulated stresses including death, loss, victimization, demoralization, shame, stigmatization, helplessness and identity. Catastrophic experiences include personal violence in domestic circumstances of intimate partner abuse, sexual assault and child physical and sexual abuse. Women's experiences of loss through the violent deaths of children and loved ones may also have such enduring impacts. Terrorism victimizes men and women in this way, with the enduring impacts for women in terms of threat of ongoing attacks as well as acute effects and their aftermath. The catastrophes of war, conflict, genocide, sexual exploitation and refugee status differentially affect large numbers of women, directly and through their concerns for the care of their children and loved ones. Ultimate catastrophes such as Hiroshima and the Holocaust are discussed but with recognition of the very large numbers of women currently experiencing catastrophe in ongoing ways that may be silent and unrecognized. This is significant for clinical care and population impacts, and in the losses for women across such contexts.
- Human rights
- Mental health